McStays were victims of homicide, investigators say

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San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon

San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — The bodies of two adults and two children found in the Mojave Desert Monday are the McStay family from Fallbrook who have been missing since 2010, the San Bernardino County Sheriff confirmed Friday.

Two of the four sets of remains were positively identified¬† as Joseph McStay and his wife Summer through dental records, Sheriff John McMahon said . Authorities believe two smaller sets of remains are those of the McStays’ sons, Joseph and Gianni, but those identities still need to be confirmed through DNA records, McMahon said.

mcstayFlierThe manner of the deaths was homicide, he said, but he declined to discuss the cause of the deaths because of the ongoing investigation.

The McStays and their sons disappeared from their home in Fallbrook in February 2010.¬† Joseph McStay was 40 years old at the time, his wife was 43 and they boys were 3 and 4. The family’s 1996 Isuzu Trooper was found abandoned four days later in San Ysidro, near the U.S.-Mexico border.

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.

The skeletal remains of the family were found in and near two shallow graves north of Victorville by a motorcyclist on Monday, according to McMahon. Some of the bones were outside the 1-to-2-foot-deep graves because of animal activity, the sheriff said. Clothing was also found in the graves, he said.


McStay family snapshot

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI have been investigating the family’s disappearance since early 2010, but McMahon said that he spoke with San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore and they decided that the San Bernardino County authorities will take the lead in the murder investigation.

When the four bodies were first discovered, investigators contacted the California Department of Justice to find out about any unsolved disappearances involving families of four, Coroner’s Investigator Bob Hunter said. State authorities sent back information about the McStays, including the dental records of Joseph and Summer, he said. That is what led to the positive identification of the adults, he said.

It was too early in the investigation to say when or where the family members had been killed, Sheriff’s Capt. Kevin Lacy said. The department’s forensic anthropologist was taking part in the autopsies, but it may not be possible to determine that information because of the state of the remains, Lacy said.

When asked if the family might have been victims of a Mexican drug gang, McMahon said detectives had no suspects yet.

“It’s too early to tell whether it’s cartel-related,” 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.”


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