Story Summary

The McStay Family Mystery

The four members of the McStay family from Fallbrook, in San Diego County, disappeared in February 2010 with little to indicate where they’d gone. On Nov. 15, 2013, San Bernardino County authorities identified bodies found in the desert outside Victorville as Joseph and Summer McStay, who were 42 and 45, respectively, when they died. Two other bodies found in the same area were believed to be those of their children, Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3. A motive in the case, which was declared a homicide investigation, was not known.

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The four slain members of the McStay family, whose bodies were found buried in the Mojave Desert last November, were honored Saturday at a memorial service in Laguna Niguel and a beach paddle-out in San Clemente.

Relatives and friends gathered to honor Joseph and Summer McStay and their sons, 4-yearold Gianni and 3-year-old Joseph Jr.

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Friends and relatives paid tribute to the McStay family during a paddle-out near San Clemente Pier on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2013. (Credit: KTLA)

The family mysteriously disappeared from their Fallbrook home, in San Diego County, in February 2010. Their remains were discovered in shallow graves outside Victorville on Nov. 11.

Sheriff’s officials have not identified any suspects in the ongoing investigation.

“We’re just here to comfort the family. This was a devastating loss for them,” said Peggy Rodriguez, one of about 200 people who attended the service at Vineyard Community Church. “And this wasn’t the outcome that they thought would happen.”

“There’s so much love in there today,” Joseph McStay’s mother, Susan Blake, said after exiting the church. “It’s hard — very, very hard. There was so much love and support.”

The McStays had lived in South Orange County before moving to Fallbrook in late 2009.

Saturday afternnon, more than a dozen mourners paddled out into the water near San Clemente Pier, where they honored the slain family by releasing orchid leis in the ocean.

“This is something we all could and enjoy, and something to remember them by,” said Ken Aranda, Summer McStay’s brother, noting that the McStays were avid beachgoers. “Definitely, this is going to give us some closure.”

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The coroner’s office in San Bernardino confirmed Friday that the remains of two children found in a shallow grave in the desert outside Victorville are those of 4-year-old Gianni and 3-year-old Joseph Jr, the son’s of Joseph and Summer McStay.

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A photograph from the “Find the McStay Family” Facebook page shows four crosses erected where their bodies were found. (Credit: “Find the McStay Family.”

McStay’s brother, Michael, delivered the sad news on a Facebook page dedicated to finding the missing family. “Coroner Office called…it was confirmed… It’s the boys,” Michael McStay posted.

The family was last heard from Feb. 4, 2010 just months after moving from south Orange County to Fallbrook, in San Diego County.

Their bodies were discovered Nov. 11 by an off-road motorcyclist between Quarry Road and the 15 Freeway, north of Stoddard Wells Road, authorities said.

Joseph McStay and Summer were identified through dental records. DNA was used to identify the children, according to a news release from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

“The manner of death has been determined to be homicide,” San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said.

He said officials were not prepared to disclose information regarding the cause of death, pending autopsies and further investigation.

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.

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Doves were released and four crosses were erected at an informal memorial for the McStays on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, at the site outside Victorville where the family’s remains were found. (Credit: KTLA)

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.”

McStay family friend Hugo Valdez posted an invitation to the Wednesday event on a the Find the McStay Family Facebook page.

“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.

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Diana Fenton and Marla Vaughn, who live near the remote area where the McStay bodies were found buried in a shallow grave, look on as crosses are raised at the site on Nov. 20, 2013. (Credit: Kacey Montoya)

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.

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Friends of the McStays on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, prepared to install memorial crosses at the site outside Victorville where the family’s remains were found. (Credit: Kacey Montoya)

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.

Two of the four bodies discovered earlier this week in a remote area outside Victorville have been identified as Joseph and Summer McStay, who along with their two young sons have been missing since 2010, authorities said.

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Joel Myers, 51, left, and Allen Gadban, 20, both of Adelanto, look at the hole Thursday where skeletal remains were found in shallow graves this week. (Credit: San Bernardino Sun)

Speaking at a news conference on Friday, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said the adult victims had been identified through dental records.

“We believe the other two sets of remains are that of the boys, their sons,” McMahon said, adding that DNA from those remains would be sent for confirmation to the Department of Justice, which has records of the McStay boys’ DNA information.

“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.

Several of the McStays’ relatives attended the news conference. Michael McStay, Joseph’s brother, choked back tears as he addressed the media.

“It gives us courage to know that they’re together and they’re in a better place,” he said. “It’s been a tough road, so we would ask that you give the family members their space and let us go through the grieving process.”

Earlier Friday, Joseph McStay’s father, Patrick McStay, told the Los Angeles Times that San Bernardino County sheriff’s officials had notified a family member of the identification on Thursday.

The elder McStay added that he believes the other skeletal remains, which have yet to be positively identified, are those of his grandsons, Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3.

The four missing family members disappeared more than three years ago after moving from south Orange County to Fallbrook, in San Diego County.

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Joseph McStay, his wife Summer and son’s Gianni and Joseph were last heard from on Feb. 4, 2010.

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.

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.

The bodies were discovered Monday morning by an off-road motorcyclist in a remote area of northeast of Victorville, authorities said.

Deputies were dispatched to the desert area between Quarry Road and the 15 Freeway, north of Stoddard Wells Road, after the motorcyclist reported possible skeletal remains, according to a statement issued by the San Bernardino County Sheriff-Coroner.

Coroner investigators were called to the scene and confirmed that the remains were human, the statement said.

The investigation continued on Tuesday, when officials with the sheriff’s Homicide Detail and Coroner Department responded to the location.

“At this point, we have no idea how long they’d been there,” McMahon said Friday. An initial statement from the Sheriff’s Department said the remains had been at the location “for an extended period of time.”

The bodies of four people found buried in the desert north of Victorville may be linked to the 2010 disappearance of the McStay family from Fallbrook, according to a report Thursday in the San Diego Union Tribune.

victorville remains

Joel Myers, 51, left, and Allen Gadban, 20, both of Adelanto, look at the hole Thursday where skeletal remains were found in shallow graves this week. (Credit: San Bernardino Sun)

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore confirmed to the Union Tribune that he had spoken with the sheriff in San Bernardino County.

Gore would not tell the newspaper what he and his counterpart discussed, and would also not confirm reports that the remains could be those of the McStays.

San Diego’s 10News was the first to report a possible connection between the Victorville remains and the McStay family.

Authorities have scheduled a new conference to discuss the case at 11 a.m. Friday in San Bernardino.

Joseph McStay, his wife Summer, and their two young sons Gianni and Joseph were last heard from on Feb. 4, 2010.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department turned the investigation over to the FBI in April due to the belief that the family went to Mexico voluntarily, according to a news release from the San Diego Sheriff’s Department.

In the days before they disappeared, investigators said someone used the McStay’s computer to find information about travel to Mexico and passports for children.

The McStay’s white 1996 Izuzu Trooper was found abandoned Feb. 8th in San Ysidro.

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Border crossing video shows a group of people similar to the McStay family going into Mexico through the pedestrian gate.

Detectives also uncovered video from a border crossing showing a group of people similar to the McStay family going into Mexico through the pedestrian gate, according to the release.

The video is dated around 7 p.m. Feb. 8, the same day the Trooper was found.

Since their disappearance, investigators said, the McStays haven’t used their credit cards, cell phones or the $100,000 in their checking account.

Family members maintain the McStays would never have left on vacation or for any other reason without telling someone.

“Evidence at the family home suggested that the family had not left on a planned vacation and that the totality of the circumstances surrounding their disappearance was quite out of character for this family,” sheriff’s Lt. Dennis Brugos said.

The family dogs had been left without food or water.

Food was found on the kitchen counter and two cereal bowls full of popcorn were in the living room.

“Certainly it’s not against the law to be missing voluntarily but we are checking some things preliminarily such as their banking, cell phone use, to try to make a determination on what happened,” said Lt. Dennis Brugos.

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Joseph McStay, his wife Summer and son’s Gianni and Joseph were last heard from on Feb. 4, 2010.

McStay worked from home and ran an online business selling indoor fountain waterfalls called Earth Inspired Products since 1996.

Anyone with information on the case is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (888) 580-8477.

Anyone with any information on this case is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (888) 580-TIPS(8477) or 580-TIPS(8477).

mcstay-familyFALLBROOK, Calif. — The FBI is taking over the search for a Southern California family that has been missing for 3 years, officials say.

Joseph McStay, his wife Summer, and their 2 young sons Gianni and Joseph were last heard from on February 4, 2010.

In a statement Tuesday, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said it pursued hundreds of leads to find Joseph and Summer McStay and their sons.

The investigation is being turned over to the FBI due to the agency’s experience working outside the United States.

Its believed the family likely went to Mexico voluntarily, but relatives aren’t convinced.

Investigators say that on Jan. 28, days before they disappeared, someone used the McStay’s computer to find information about travel to Mexico and passports for children.

The McStay’s white 1996 Izuzu Trooper was found abandoned February 8th in San Ysidro.

missing-family-video-bgDetectives also uncovered video from a border crossing showing a group of people similar to the McStay family going into Mexico through the pedestrian gate.

The video is dated around 7 p.m. Feb. 8, the same day the Trooper was found.

Detectives showed the video to the McStay’s relatives.

Some recognized the white jacket that the woman is wearing in the video, but other family members aren’t sure it’s them because of the poor quality of the video.

Since their disappearance, investigators said, the McStays haven’t used their credit cards, cell phones or the $100,000 in their checking account.

Family members maintain the McStays would never have left on vacation or for any other reason without telling someone.

“Evidence at the family home suggested that the family had not left on a planned vacation and that the totality of the circumstances surrounding their disappearance was quite out of character for this family,” sheriff’s Lt. Dennis Brugos said.

The family dogs had been left without food or water.

Food was found on the kitchen counter and two cereal bowls full of popcorn were in the living room.

“Certainly it’s not against the law to be missing voluntarily but we are checking some things preliminarily such as their banking, cell phone use, to try to make a determination on what happened,” said Lt. Dennis Brugos.

McStay worked from home and ran an online business selling indoor fountain waterfalls called Earth Inspired Products since 1996.

Anyone with information on the case is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (888) 580-8477.

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