Body found Sunday in Costa Mesa ID’d as missing Dana Point science teacher

The Orange County Sheriff's Department issued a missing person's bulletin July 21 for Dana Point resident Orion Gardner.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department issued a missing person’s bulletin July 21 for Dana Point resident Orion Gardner. Gardner’s body was found Sunday in Costa Mesa and identified Thursday.
(Courtesy of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department)

A decomposed body discovered Sunday behind a Costa Mesa business was identified Thursday as that of a 44-year-old Dana Point man who had been declared missing by his family weeks earlier, California Highway Patrol officials reported.

Orion Adrian Gardner, a former science teacher at JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, was last seen leaving his house on July 20 at around 8:30 p.m., according to a missing person’s bulletin issued by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department following his disappearance.

Wearing a black shirt, black pants and black shoes, and wearing black-rimmed glasses, Gardner headed off in an unknown direction and was not heard from again, the bulletin stated. He was deemed a critical missing person, due to the fact he was without needed medication, sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Todd Hylton said Thursday.

Although several calls and tips came into the department, none were successful helping find the missing man.

“We received several leads and had tracked down leads, as far as potential locations, but unfortunately none of those led to the discovery of his location,” Hylton said.

Gardner’s body was discovered Sunday morning by a transient man who’d been collecting cans behind a dog boarding and daycare business at 2700 Bristol St. in Costa Mesa. It was propped up against a fence near the 55 Freeway interchange and was in a decomposed state, CHP spokesman Officer Anselmo Templado said Monday.

Coroner’s officials estimated the body — which they were unable to immediately identify — had expired nine to 12 days prior to being found. The cause of death is under investigation, pending the results of a toxicology report, CHP reported Thursday.

CHP reported a decomposed body was discovered Sunday behind a business on Costa Mesa's Bristol Street, near the 55 Freeway.
CHP reported a body was discovered Sunday behind a business on Costa Mesa’s Bristol Street, near the 55 Freeway. The body was identified Thursday as belonging to Dana Point resident Orion Gardner.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

During their investigation of the death, officers reported seeing no signs of foul play at the scene. Hylton said Thursday there had been some indications the body may have belonged to Gardner prior to Thursday’s positive identification.

“This is a tough one,” he added. “I believe he was a high school science teacher, based on some of the comments we saw on social media — so it’s very unfortunate.”

Patrick Reidy, vice president of Mission and Faith for JSerra said Friday the school community was devastated by the news.

“Orion was a founding member of the JSerra faculty and was one of our most beloved teachers during his long tenure with us. Even after he moved on from JSerra he continued to maintain close friendships with many of our staff,” Reidy said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to his family and loved ones—we cannot imagine how difficult this must be for them.”

A public page on Facebook titled “Bring Orion Gardner Home” was launched on Aug. 4 to gather information that might lead to the teacher’s discovery. There, people posted tributes to Gardner and his love of the ocean, including a poem written by a former student.

You touched so many lives/ So many people impacted, changed — elevated/ to a new height; you taught the next generation/ of achievers, doers, lovers of the earth/ you taught teenagers to care about the ocean/ for the value that it’s worth,” read one stanza.

Anyone with information on the case is encouraged to contact Officer J. Final at CHP’s Santa Ana office at (714) 567-6000.

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5:22 p.m. Aug. 12, 2022: This story has been updated to include commentary provided by JSerra Catholic High School, where Orion Gardner was a teacher for many years.