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'Identify the Missing' event in San Diego brings hope to many seeking loved ones

They came by the dozens last weekend to the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office to provide information about loved ones.

The first ever "Identify the Missing" day brought hope to many. Within just a few hours, one mother received information that her son, missing 30 years, was probably still alive.

Other mothers, such as Maria Vasquez of Escondido, had never filed a missing person report until Saturday. She was there in hopes of locating her son, Jesus Torres Vasquez, who disappeared in 1999.

That summer, Jesus, who was 19, left on a bus with his uncle headed to Oregon. A few months passed and he called his mother to tell her he and his uncle were arguing and he was going to take off. He said he would call every now and again to let her know he was fine.

Later, the uncle told Maria that Jesus, a Mexican citizen, had been picked up by immigration and deported. She has never heard from him again.

She thinks Jesus is alive in the United States, but simply "forgot about me."

Like many others at the event, she met with sheriff's deputies and filed a report, gave a sample of her DNA to a member of the California Department of Justice, and provided more information to a national missing persons organization that collects data and feeds it into a massive computer bank.

"I think my son is good, he is OK," she said in Spanish. "The heart of a mom tells me he is OK. I am sure this will be a start to find my son. I'm very sure. I think I will hear news soon."

A variety of law enforcement agencies, including representatives from Mexico, attended the event. At the end of the day, 10 new missing persons cases were reported and 10 others updated.

Medical Examiner Glenn Wagner said there are 3,175 active missing person cases in San Diego County — and more than 19,000 statewide. Yet there are probably many others authorities don't know about because people are afraid to come forward because of their immigration status.

Just a couple of hours after the event started, El Cajon resident Garet Hegner, 89, who last saw her son Ross about 30 years ago when she kicked him out of the house in Pacific Beach, found out he most likely was still alive at the age of 64.

San Diego police told her they had made contact with Ross Hegner last summer in downtown San Diego when he was cited for sleeping on someone's porch.

"Isn't it wonderful? I never gave up," she said. "I figured someday he would show up, but he better hurry because I'll be 90 this year."

She said she and her daughter planned to start searching for her son.

jharry.jones@sduniontribune.com

Jones writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on March 25, 2016, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Event provides hope to those seeking loved ones - `Identify the Missing' day in San Diego produces 10 new cases; 10 others are updated." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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