A small public memorial was held Wednesday afternoon in honor of the McStay family, a couple and their two young sons whose bodies were discovered last week in the Mojave Desert.
The family had been missing since February 2010, when they mysteriously vanished from their home in San Diego County.
Volunteers who live in the remote area northeast of Victorville where the bodies were found in a shallow grave helped Michael McStay, brother of victim Joseph McStay, in his request to erect crosses on the site.
Dozens of doves were released as Michael, his wife and the volunteers gathered.
“At least we can start the next phase in the process, Michael McStay said. “What was hidden was brought to light, out in the open, and now we can catch the individuals who did this.”
“This tragedy has touched many of us very deeply as a community and a group of caring individuals. I know many of you would like to pay your respects,” Valdez wrote.
Wednesday “also happens to be the birthday of Joseph McStay, the father and husband whose remains have been positively identified as being one of the victims in the shallow grave,” Valdez added.
Joseph McStay and his wife, Summer, were identified through dental records, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said at a news conference Friday.
Authorities believe that two other bodies found at the site are the couple’s two sons, 4-year-old Gianni and 3-year-old Joseph Jr. DNA from those remains was being sent for confirmation to the Department of Justice, McMahon said.
“The manner of death has been determined to be homicide,” McMahon said. He said officials were not prepared to disclose information regarding the cause of death, pending autopsies and further investigation.
Writing on Facebook, Michael McStay said a separate “memorial and ocean sendoff” for the slain family members would be scheduled for a later date. No word was available on when a funeral would take place.
Wednesday’s ceremony “is a time of placing crosses at the site where the McStay family was found and releasing doves (very cool) by the caring individuals around Victorville,” he wrote, adding, “I hope I can meet the motorcycle rider who placed the call to” the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.
The four missing family members disappeared more than three years ago after moving from south Orange County to Fallbrook, in San Diego County.
The last known contact with the McStays occurred on Feb. 4, 2010, authorities said. Two days later, Joseph’s and Summer McStay’s mobile phones reportedly went dead.
Chase Merritt, a friend and business partner of Joseph McStay, believes he was the last person to speak with McStay the day the family disappeared. He has also been considered a suspect in the case, even taking a lie detector test shortly after the disappearances. In an interview with the Daily Mail, Merritt said, “I don’t want to upset anyone, I just want people to know the truth.”
“The McStay’s were not perfect like some people would have you believe, but they weren’t criminals or drug runners like others have said, they were just a normal family. Well, a normal family other than Joseph, who was the nicest man I have ever known,” Merritt said.
The family’s SUV was found two blocks from the U.S.-Mexico border, officials said.
Surveillance video at the border later showed a man and a woman walking into Mexico, each holding the hand of a child, according to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. The family in the video matched the description of the McStays, sheriff’s officials said.
“Whether or not they actually crossed the border and then came back, we’re not sure. It’s too early in the investigation,” McMahon said.
KTLA’s Kacey Montoya and Melissa Pamer contributed to this report.