Skeletal remains found in a California desert earlier this week are those of members of a San Diego County family missing for over three years, authorities confirmed Friday.
“Through the use of dental records, we’re able to identify the adult victims as Summer and Joseph McStay,” San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said at a news conference. “We believe the other two sets of remains are that of the boys, their sons.”
Joseph McStay, his wife Summer and their two children, Gianni and Joseph Jr., were reported missing in February 2010, and their Isuzu Trooper was found abandoned near the Mexican border.
Ten days after the family was last seen, police entered their Fallbrook home and found food on the counter and two dogs left unattended.
McMahon said the boys’ DNA is on file with the Department of Justice and investigators would consult with the agency to confirm that the other two bodies are Gianni and Joseph Jr.
The deaths have been ruled homicides, though McMahon would not release details about their cause of death, citing the ongoing investigation. He said where and when they were killed is still unknown.
According to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, the remains of four people were discovered on Monday morning in and near two shallow graves north of Victorville after a motorcyclist reported finding bones.
“It appears the remains have been there for an extended period of time,” a sheriff’s office press release stated.
The remains were found between Quarry Road and I-15, north of Stoddard Wells Road in the Mojave Desert, about 100 miles north of Fallbrook.
“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, Joseph’s brother, said at Friday’s press conference.
“My family appreciates all the support and the love that we’ve been shown,” McStay said. “They are a loving family and I know that all of America loves the McStays. We’re going to find this individual or individuals. I know that the sheriffs, the FBI, everybody wants to bring this to justice.”
McMahon described the remains as “primarily intact,” buried in graves one to two feet deep in a “somewhat remote” area. There were two bodies in each grave and some clothing was found with them.
A coroner’s office investigator said Friday it is too soon to know whether a forensic anthropologist will be able to establish a time of death for the victims.
McMahon said the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department will be the lead investigative agency on the case going forward with the assistance of San Diego County authorities and the FBI.
Earlier this year, officials announced that the FBI was taking over as the lead agency investigating the McStay family’s disappearance because it was believed at the time that they had crossed into Mexico.
Surveillance video showed a family fitting their description walking across the border into Mexico on February 8, 2010. A San Diego County Sheriff’s Department spokesman had told CNN there was a “high probability” it was the McStays, but it could not be confirmed.
McMahon said Friday it is “absolutely possible” that the people in the video were not the McStays and that they were already dead by that time, but it is too early in the investigation to reach that conclusion.
McMahon would not comment on whether a weapon was found at the scene, but he said some evidence was found that could help track down the killer.
“We’re looking at all options and investigating this crime from the beginning in trying to identify who the suspects are,” McMahon said.