McStay family mystery: Friends and family gather for memorial

At a small memorial service in Orange County on Saturday, loved ones remembered a family that disappeared four years ago and was recently found in shallow desert graves. 

At the Vineyard Community Church in Laguna Niguel, about 200 friends and family members celebrated Joseph and Summer McStay and their two young sons. The family disappeared in 2010. Their skeletal remains were found in the desert near Victorville in November, and their deaths remain unsolved. 

The service was closed to the media. Afterward, Joseph McStay’s brother told the Orange County Register he found peace “remembering the goodness” of his family.

“For today, just remember them,” Michael McStay said. “Remember my brother. Remember my sister. Remember my nephews. Celebrate their life.”


In November, a motorcyclist riding through a remote area off the 15 Freeway outside Victorville discovered bones and called authorities. Sheriff’s investigators excavated the area, finding the remains of two adults and two children.

Authorities used DNA tests and dental records to identify the bodies.

Joseph McStay’s mother, Susan Blake, told the Register she still hopes key questions can be answered. Why did the family leave without warning? Why was their car found parked in San Ysidro, near the Mexico border? 

“I need answers now,” Blake said. “I waited almost four years with hope to find them.... That chapter of hope is closed and I need to start a new chapter of justice.”


Later Saturday, Joseph McStay’s brother and other surfers paddled out from the San Clemente Pier, near where the family had lived before they moved to San Diego County. Four leis were pushed out to sea.

On a chilly Thursday in February 2010, the McStays left their home in Fallbrook and got into their Izusu Trooper. They were never heard from again.

When family and friends had not made contact with them for more than a week, Joseph McStay’s brother called authorities. Inside the house, investigators found no sign of a struggle. A carton of eggs had gone bad on the counter. Bowls of popcorn sat in the living room. 

“The bottom line,” the lead investigator in the case, Troy Dugal, told The Times in 2011, “was that life was normal for the McStays up to Feb. 4, and on that day they just vanished.”

At the time, Joseph was 40 and Summer was a 43-year-old stay-at-home mom for the couple’s two young boys, Gianni and Joseph Jr.

The family’s SUV had been towed from a strip mall parking lot in San Ysidro, an hour’s drive from the McStay’s home and a short walk from a pedestrian crossing into Mexico. 

In the surveillance footage taken at the border crossing, investigators saw a man holding the hand of a young boy followed by a woman holding the hand of another boy. 

The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department is investigating all four deaths as homicides.



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