February 20th, 2010
09:32 AM ET

San Diego family disappears


[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/02/19/art.crime.mcstay.jpg caption="Joseph McStay, his wife and two children have been missing since Feb. 4th."]

Gabriel Falcon
AC360° Writer

A close relative of a missing Southern California family fears they may have been kidnapped. “My gut feeling is telling me that they are being held against their will in some way,” said Michael McStay, brother of Joseph McStay. “That’s my personal opinion. That’s what I think.”

Joseph McStay, 40, his wife, Summer, 43, and their two young children, Gianna, 4, and Joseph, 3, have not been seen or heard from since February 4.

Concerned relatives contacted authorities who then conducted a welfare check of the family's home on February 15, the sheriff's department said in a written statement.

An SUV belonging to the family was found abandoned near the Mexican border. "At this point it just seems to be a mystery," Lt. Dennis Brugos of the San Diego County Sheriff's Office told CNN. "There is a chance the family could have voluntarily left and disappeared, but it's unlikely."

Michael McStay said he would speak to his older brother at least once a week. “Every Friday he would call me and we’d be talking for a while,” he said. “We were tight. We’ve always been tight.”

The McStay home is in Fallbrook, an unincorporated area about 45 miles north of San Diego.

"Evidence at the family home suggested that the family had not left on a planned vacation and that the totality of the circumstances surrounding their disappearance was quite out of character for the family," the sheriff's office said.

Brugos said the McStays' two dogs were left at the home unattended and without food or water.

"I think there were some food items left out that should have been refrigerated," Brugos added. "Those types of things sparked our attention, and on the chance that this turns into a criminal investigation we want to be on the ground floor with this thing."

After the SUV was found in San Ysidro, two blocks from the Mexican border, "it was processed with a search warrant," Brugos said. "There was nothing in the car ... suggesting that this was some criminal act."

However, investigators are not ruling out the possibility of foul play and have assigned the case to the sheriff's homicide detail.

"There is nothing illegal about disappearing," Brugos said. "(But) in this particular case, according to relatives it would be out of character just to disappear without notifying family members."

Brugos also said it was unlikely the McStays were targeted by a Mexican drug cartel. "There is nothing in Joseph or his wife's life or background that would suggest (or) that would put them in a high risk of any criminal activity," he said.

And, he said, interviews with relatives and friends indicate no internal signs of marital trouble or conflict. "Everyone has issues in every family, but as far as a family just disappearing, there is nothing to suggest they would do just that," he said.

“He is fun loving and easy going,” said Michael McStay. “He’s creative, h e’s just you know, people like to hange with him, both of them. Summer is very intelligent, very educated, a heck of a mom…this doesn’t add up.”

Joseph McStay is self-employed, creating and installing indoor water treatments, such as pools," Brugos said.

He called the disappearance of the McStay family unsettling and unusual.

"We've had cases where there have been incidents, but relatively quickly we are able to determine what happened," he said. "In this particular case, it's been quite a while."

Michael McStay said the family is coping as best they can. “Everyone just wants the babies and them home safe, just trying to network and get the information out as quickly as possible,’ he told CNN.

Joseph McStay, 40, is 5-foot-9 and weighs 175 pounds. He has brown hair and brown eyes. Summer McStay, also known as Lisa Aranda-Martelli, is 43, 5-foot-5, 115 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes.

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of the McStay family is urged to contact Sgt. Dave Martinez of the San Diego County Sheriff's Office at 858-565-5200. Anonymous calls can be made to 888-580-8477.

For more crime coverage go to cnn.com/crime.

Filed under: Crime & Punishment • Gabe Falcon
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Shell-Lee

    I would be interested to know why Mrs. McStay was also known by another name?

    February 22, 2010 at 12:50 am |
  2. HJ

    With the country in the bad shape that it is, I would not be surprised that
    this is a murder-suicide. Hope I'm wrong and this family is found

    February 21, 2010 at 8:08 pm |
  3. Margery W

    Chad N, adiós. We won't miss you. We will see you again as soon as you or a family member need a well-trained doctor, state-of-the-art surgery in an accredited hospital, or a world class educational opportunity. These things are commonplace in this "lousy old U.S.", but unheard of in Malariaville, Latin America.

    February 21, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
  4. teresa, oh

    I hope they are alright somewhere...
    @Chad, you make a good point.

    How were their finances? Did they have jobs? They are an older couple with young children... hmmm.

    I am curious as to why the wifes name is different: " Summer McStay, also known as Lisa Aranda-Martelli"... ya ya ya, I get that one name might be her maiden name, but whats with the first name then?

    Sometimes, the police give a little tiny taste of whats going on and then they want the public to provide the main course. It's gonna take some EVIDENCE of foul play to get more public interest in this one.

    February 21, 2010 at 2:30 pm |
  5. Linda Carr

    I am amazed a family can just disappear..vanish into thin air..one or 2 people...but young kids too? It boggles my mind.

    February 21, 2010 at 10:42 am |
  6. stella

    Why is homicide conducting the investigation something very wrong happened to this family. I wonder how many families have to disappear along the border before the lack of border security is taken more seriously. I hope the family is okay, but it doesn't sound good.

    February 21, 2010 at 1:07 am |
  7. Nancy

    I live within a few miles of the McStay residence. This story is very sad and shocking. I don't believe this family went down to Mexico. They had just moved into their home a few months ago and were in the process of remodeling and the husband had a good business. I think that some really bad person came into their lives. I think they were abducted either in their home or near it. I hope for the safe return of this family. Although the more time that goes on the less likely that seems.

    February 21, 2010 at 1:06 am |
  8. Belinda S.

    It's so sad to hear about another family. What is this World comming too? We need to start praying for the victims if this is the case. Even if it is not, still pray.
    And our Government needs to start paying back what they barrow, from our states. And not also cut into Social Security, the disabled, and medical and medicade programs, we the people have paid dearly in the past and present. And now this!

    Start your NeighberHood Watch Programs UP!, its only going to get worse, since there is a lost in the work force on jobs.

    May our good Lord, find them safe.

    February 20, 2010 at 9:43 pm |
  9. Melissa B

    @Chad N: That made me laugh, I second that. So much bad news and negativity and greed and so on and on and on and on and on.....

    February 20, 2010 at 9:11 pm |
  10. Sharon/Baby Boomer Queen

    I do not know about the rest of you, but I smell a skunk in the wood pile. Where are these people?

    They would not have left their pets at home any more then they would have left their children.

    Come on people, some one must have seen something...think deep!

    ~The Baby Boomer Queen~

    February 20, 2010 at 7:34 pm |
  11. Nina B

    In this day and age how does an entire family go missing? With GPS in automobiles, phones and shoes not to mention credit and debit cards, cameras in laptops and at stop lights, I would think their trail should be easily accessible even in the worst scenario of criminal elements. What else could be as important as caring what happens to all families in the United States, even those we don't know.

    February 20, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
  12. C. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    Some years ago a friend whom I worked with, he and his father went fishing on the Mexican border and disappeared without a trace. This was a large close family with several brothers and sisters including their mother and I personally know neither would have just walked away from their family. The U.S. consulate got involved along with the several high lawenforcement agencies, went to Mexico for answers and got nowhere. It happens all the time, and my friend and his dad have never been found just gone without a trace.

    February 20, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
  13. Chad N

    With all the crud the world is having to deal with right now it wouldn't come as any suprise to me if families began just disapearing and living off the grid somewhere. I am borderline doing that myself right now. FInd a nice latin american country to reside in and abandon life in these United States.

    February 20, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
  14. Ravyne Ramirez

    Dear Anderson.. this is such a sad and strange story. I do hope you will continue working on it until some news of this family comes to light. You are an excellent investigative reporter and I know if anyone could help the police, you could.

    Best Wishes,

    February 20, 2010 at 9:10 am |