Missing student’s family still holding out hope
When Karen Laspisa heard the doorbell ring at 8 o’clock one recent morning, she jumped out of bed expecting to see her son Bryce.
He had just gone off to college in Northern California for his sophomore year, and this was his first time driving home on his own. But when Laspisa opened the door, she found a California Highway Patrol officer on the porch of her Laguna Niguel home.
Someone had found Bryce’s tan 2003 Toyota Highlander rolled off an access road to the main launch ramp at Castaic Lake, the officer said. The rear windshield was broken out and Bryce’s wallet, phone, laptop and other belongings were still there. Only, no Bryce.
So began a three-week odyssey for the Laspisa family — a frantic search filled with false hopes and dead-end leads.
At one point, officials found a burned body a few miles from where his car was left near Castaic Lake. Media reports speculated the body was Bryce’s, but it turned out to be someone else’s. Several times, people called about a red-headed Valencia man who looked like Bryce. There was even a sighting in Arkansas.
All the while, the Laspisa family has been trying to hold out hope and keeping the search going.
“In the beginning obviously you’re focused on doing everything you can and are therefore distracted. And then you go through a period where I’ve got less to do and I’m more impacted every day by him not being found,” said Bryce’s father, Michael Laspisa.
Laspisa has driven to Castaic Lake almost daily. He said his mind is racked with questions and fears.
“Every day you go through the whole scenario of the 85 possible things that could’ve caused it and the three to four conclusions from success to failure in terms of finding him alive.”
Investigators told the family it appears Bryce was able to walk away from the crash, where the terrain offers its own obstacles. The land is rocky in some points and loose and sandy in others. There is no artificial light, and the landscape is crowded with sharp scrub brush.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department searched the area for weeks. Investigators checked the lake and scoured the trails and brush by air and horseback. Investigators told the family Bryce’s scent led them toward the lake. But that’s where the trail runs cold.
Bryce’s friends set up a Facebook page dedicated to the search while relatives rallied around his parents and flew in from out of state. Community volunteers and nonprofit search groups aided in the weeks to follow.
“You build up hope, you wake up in the morning and think this is the day I’m going to find him, find her, and at the end of the day ... you crumble,” said Carrie McGonigle, whose daughter was slain in 2010 and who helped the Laspisas search last week. “You have to have each other to support each other.”
As days have turned into weeks, Bryce’s friends and family have not let up on their get-out-the-word effort, all the while unsure whether they’ll ever find out what happened to him.
The family moved to Orange County from Illinois in August 2012.
The parents retired early — Michael from his job as a controls engineer, Karen as a manager with BP — and Bryce planned to earn credits at Sierra College near Sacramento before transferring to a four-year university.
Bryce seemed to fit in well at the college.
But things took an odd turn days before his disappearance. Bryce didn’t call his mom after saying that he would. He was planning a trip home, so she got worried about where he was. The family reported him missing to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. A bulletin was issued and a few hours later police found his vehicle at a Kern County rest stop. Bryce told his family he was fine and hanging out with friends.
Then just before 2 a.m. on Aug. 30, he called his family and said he was headed south on Interstate 5 and was about 90 minutes from home.
About 20 minutes later, he called his parents a second time and said he was tired and was going to get off the freeway and get some sleep. It was the last time Bryce’s parents heard from him.
His parents went to sleep figuring Bryce would wake them up when he got home.
But about 5:30 a.m., a person reported Bryce’s Highlander was down the side of a ravine near Castaic Lake.
There was a little blood in the car and the rear windshield was shattered out, apparently from the crash, Karen said. Cameras in the area showed Bryce didn’t drive down that road until about 4:30 a.m.
After nearly three weeks of searching, Sheriff’s Department officials said they were scaling back the effort.
“When you look at the lengths we’ve gone to find Bryce Laspisa, we feel terrible for the missing and we feel terrible for the family and friends,” said Capt. Mike Parker. “It’s a tragedy he has not been found and the unknowns that go along with that. Frankly, it breaks our hearts too.”
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