March 8th, 2010
02:42 PM ET

New lead in missing family case


[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/CRIME/02/22/california.missing.family/story.mcstay.split.courtesy.jpg caption="Evidence at Joseph and Summer McStay's home suggests they hadn't planned on being gone long, authorities say." width=300 height=169]

Gabriel Falcon
AC360° Writer

Security tape from a border checkpoint may have captured a California family missing since February entering Mexico, authorities said. “It’s a possibility,” Sgt. Dave Martinez of the San Diego Sheriff’s Office homicide detail told CNN.

The surveillance video, taken February 8 at the San Ysidro border crossing, shows four people who appear to resemble Joseph McStay, 40; his wife, Summer, 43; and their two children, Gianni, 4, and Joseph 3, officials said.

“This might be the family going into Mexico,” Martinez said. “We can’t confirm it. We can’t rule it out because the footage is kind of grainy and it’s under ambient light. It’s dark with the shadows. It can be difficult. But it’s a possibility based on the size of the individuals.”

Martinez added that “there are other characteristics that we noticed, possibly clothing” that may indicate the four individuals are the McStays. He also described them as “walking casually toward the gate.”

The McStays have not been seen or heard from since February 4. Their abandoned SUV was found two blocks from the San Ysidro border on February 8, the sheriff’s department said. "It was processed with a search warrant," Lt Dennis Brugos of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department said. "There was nothing in the car ... suggesting that this was some criminal act."

The McStays' home is in Fallbrook, an unincorporated area about 45 miles north of San Diego. The sheriff's office said 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."  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 said.

Investigators are working with Mexican authorities and running leads in the hopes of locating the family, Martinez said. He and the other investigators assigned to the case remain baffled over the family’s disappearance.

“This is a big mystery to me, “Martinez said. “I couldn’t tell you one way or another. It’s possible they voluntarily went to Mexico. There is nothing to indicate foul play.”

However, Martinez said it is uncharacteristic for the family not to keep in contact with friends and loved ones.

“We want to make sure that the family is okay,” Martinez told CNN. “We would love to hear from them to ensure that they are safe.”

Michael McStay, the brother of Joseph Stay, said he has reviewed the checkpoint security tape and could not make a positive identification.

“Careful reviews of the video shows that there are of two or three different families passing by, one with a little girl actually, and the other with a man who walks nothing like my brother,” McStay wrote on a blog entry for www.mcstayfamily.com, the web site he created to finding them.

“We do know that a sweet, loving family is missing and the leads are far a few between,” he wrote.  “We know that the community has showered us with emails, concerns, and offers to help. We know that the Detectives are hard at work on this case. We know that cases like these bring out the best in many people and the worst in a few others.”

Joseph McStay is 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighs 175 pounds. He has brown hair and brown eyes. Summer McStay, also known as Lisa Aranda-Martelli, is 5 feet 5 inches tall and 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 Department 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
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