Skeletons found in desert graves ID'd as missing California family

Family disappeared in 2010

SAN DIEGO, Calif. - Authorities Friday said skeletons found in the Mojave Desert near Victorville this week belong to a Fallbrook couple who disappeared with their two young sons in February 2010.

A motorcyclist riding about 50 yards from a dirt road west of Interstate 15 on Monday morning found two shallow graves containing the remains of Joseph and Summer McStay and two children believed to be their sons, Gianni and Joseph Jr., San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said.

Dental records confirmed the couple's identities, and detectives have concluded that all four were homicide victims, McMahon told reporters in a late-morning briefing. Authorities expected to identify the juvenile remains soon through DNA comparisons, he said.

The sheriff, whose agency has taken charge of investigations in the case, declined to disclose how the McStays might have been killed and said no suspects had been identified.

The last known confirmed sighting of the family was on Feb. 4, 2010. The then-40-year-old husband, who owned a decorative-fountain company, his 43-year-old wife and their sons, ages 4 and 3, appeared to have left their Fallbrook home in haste, according to investigators.

Deputies found the family's two dogs at the house, and nothing inside suggested the couple and their children had gone on a vacation or other routine trip. A carton of eggs was left on a kitchen counter, according to sheriff's officials.

A few days earlier, the McStays' white Isuzu Trooper had turned up near the U.S.-Mexico line in San Ysidro with one of the boys' asthma medicine inside the SUV.

Among few possible pieces of evidence in the case was a blurry Feb. 8, 2010, video showing four people closely resembling the family walking across the international border into Baja California.

In response to a question at Friday morning's briefing about whether the family might have run afoul of a Mexican drug gang, McMahon said detectives had no solid theory about who might have killed the family.

"It's too early to tell whether it's cartel-related or any other suspects," he told news crews at San Bernardino County sheriff's headquarters. "We'll continue to work with San Diego (law enforcement). They provided us a couple of investigators we've been working with. But again, the investigation is early, and we have not had an opportunity to read all of their reports."

McMahon added that there also was "no information to suggest where they were killed at this point."

During the news conference, Joseph McStay's younger brother haltingly described getting a degree of closure along with the rest of his family from the discovery of their long-missing loved ones' remains.

"It's not really the outcome we were looking for, but it gives us courage to know that they're together and they're in a better place," Michael McStay said, his voice choked with grief.

-- Relative angry with handling of case --

Patrick McStay, Joseph McStay's father, first confirmed with 10News Thursday that two of the bodies discovered in the Mojave Desert were of the couple.

On Friday, he told 10News, "It hasn't really sunk in because something in the back of my mind keeps saying, 'Gee, you may just get that call that says sorry we made a mistake, it's not them.' I keep that little glimmer of hope there, but then the other side of me is tapping me on the shoulder saying no, no, that's not it."

McStay said he has no faith in law enforcement and believes the San Diego County Sheriff's Department missed important clues in the investigation. He said he told sheriff's investigators about three people that could be connected to the disappearance of his son's family, but feels he was ignored.

"I've been consumed with knowing something happened to them. The San Diego Sheriff's Department is only doing whatever they felt they could do that would fit with their little theory and prove that they voluntarily walked away. The only thing you ever heard out of them or you ever saw was that," McStay said. "I have to hang on to the anger because the anger keeps me from cracking up … I think it hasn't really sunk in."

"All I've been screaming for was a thorough competent investigation. Take it out of their hands because they're corrupt and that's what I've been screaming. Four years I've been telling everybody," McStay added.

Detectives with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department said they poured through hundreds of leads, but those leads let nowhere.

Now, memories are all he has left.

"If you could find one person on this earth that was better and more loved than my son Joey, I sure as hell would like to know who they are," McStay said.

"I want whoever did this to know… I will not let up. I will find you," he added. "I want you out there because I'm going to get you."

Patrick McStay told 10News that this coming Wednesday will be one of the hardest days of his life. It would have been Joseph's 44th birthday.