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Exclusive interview: Mothers of McStays determined to find family - *Inquiry into Mexican travel discovered *FBI resources called in *Joseph McStay hadn't been well for months

Susan Blake and Blanche Almanze, the mothers of Joseph ‘Joey’ McStay, 40, and his wife, Summer, 43, respectively, have not given up hope of finding their children and two grandsons, Gianni, 4, and Joey Jr., 3, alive.

The McStay family of four, residents of Fallbrook, was last heard from on February 4. They have now been missing for eight weeks.

New evidence discovered

Blake said that new information became available on Monday, March 29 – evidence that an inquiry had been made from the family’s home computer on January 28 as to whether passports were required for children traveling into Mexico. Law enforcement authorities have focused the search for the family into Mexico since a review of tapes of individuals crossing the international border produced a family of four, roughly meeting the McStay’s description, crossing on February 7.

Both mothers said they find it hard to believe that their children would cross over the border into Mexico, especially with the children in tow.

“I have said from day one that if my son went over the border, he would have had to have been drugged or forced; there is no other way,” said Blake.

“I just don’t see my daughter taking [the children] out of their car seats and putting them into a taxi in Tijuana; she just wasn’t like that,” said Almanze. “She was always very concerned about the children being safely buckled into their car seats.”

FBI will join investigation

Lt. Dennis Brugos of the San Diego County Sheriff’s homicide division, who has been handling the investigation into the missing family, said the email inquiry into Mexican travel protocol now provides the means to call the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) into the case.

“The FBI has additional resources in Mexico,” said Brugos. “We will work with them, brief them on the case, and look forward to the added help.”

Brugos said the investigation has been focused in Mexico after the images were found on the tapes, but the family has still questioned whether it was their relatives or not.

“It was very difficult to tell anything for sure from the tapes because they were so fuzzy,” said Blake. “I could not tell for sure that it was my son.”

Blake said she had even more uncertainties when it came to the children on the tape. “My grandson, Joey Jr., who we call “Chubba” has a certain way he walks and that was not evident in what I saw,” she said. “Gianni, I couldn’t see very well at all.”

Blake said Almanze thought she recognized her daughter by her thin build, overall size and a jacket the woman was wearing.

Blake and Almanze both said they have been “pretty satisfied” with how law enforcement has been handling the case and hope results are realized soon.

“I’m pretty satisfied with what they are doing as far as the investigation into Mexico,” said Almanze. “I just wait every day to see if they get back to me.”

Almanze said she has been successful enlisting some help in Mexico herself, although she does not know anyone down there. A bus line has promised to keep circulating the flyers and a Mexican newspaper has been helpful about publishing information.

It has also now been confirmed with law enforcement that the last cell phone calls made by the couple were relayed from a wireless site near the family home.

Mothers vow to keep searching

Despite the stress they are under, Blake and Almanze have consistently spent their time traveling throughout multiple counties passing out flyers with pictures of the missing family and asking business owners to post the notices in their windows. Blake, who was residing in Ventura, and Almanze, who normally lives in Big Bear have relocated temporarily to assist in the search for their loved ones.

“I’ll do anything to help search for my son and his family,” said Blake. “I just have to find them.”

“I’m just trying to keep the flyers going in hopes that maybe someone has seen something; even if they didn’t think it was something at the time,” said Almanze. “I’ve been handing out flyers everywhere I possibly can.”

Joseph McStay had not been well

Blake has an added concern. She said her son hadn’t been feeling well for a few months before the family disappeared.

“My son had been sick since last August and he’s normally a very healthy person,” said Blake. “He’s an excellent surfer and soccer player. I even went to the hospital with him to try and see what was wrong; we thought maybe it was stress.”

Blake described Joseph’s symptoms as something similar to vertigo and said he complained of feeling “woozy.”

“When I last talked to my son, on February 4, he said he still didn’t feel good,” said Blake, adding that she has provided the Sheriff’s Dept with information she had on her son’s recent healthcare visits.

Communication volume high in household

At the time of the family’s disappearance, the mothers said Summer McStay was shopping online through Craig’s List for furnishings for the family home, part of a remodeling project they had underway, and was communicating online with a number of people with items for sale.

“The kitchen was practically done, but [Summer] was still shopping for a new couch and chair,” said Blake. The mothers both wonder if any of the people that had been in contact via email with Summer may have information as to the family’s whereabouts.

Personal profile

Blake said that the couple had been together for approximately six years and married after the children were born. She explained that Summer’s maiden name was Virginia Lisa Aranda, however she was also known to use the name Summer Martelli, a name she devised herself.

“[Summer] changed her name back in 1979,” her mother, Blanche Almanze confirmed.

After the family went missing, Blake said she discovered that her daughter-in-law was eleven years older than she was given to believe.

“I don’t know why she did that; I don’t care about her age if she and my son are happy together,” said Blake.

The investigation continues

Authorities say they are continuing to work with Mexican officials on the case and will look forward to the added benefit the FBI can bring.

“It is definitely still an ongoing investigation,” said Brugos, adding that to date no evidence of wrongdoing, foul play or criminal involvement has been noted.

Officials have conducted extensive searches of the family’s vehicles and home located in the Lake Rancho Viejo area of Fallbrook.

Susan Blake said she is trying to keep her son’s family home “going,” because “I know in my heart that Joey is alive. I feel that.”

In reflecting on the search and public communication efforts, Almanze said she feels a birthmark on her youngest grandson’s forehead has not been mentioned enough in the search and may have been noticed.

“Joey Jr. has a red birthmark on the right side of his forehead, close to his eyebrow,” said Almanze. “It’s a red, strawberry mark.”

And as the two mothers continue to update and pass out flyers throughout the community, they are comforted by supporters, they said.

“The town of Fallbrook has been so supportive,” said Blake. “Everyone has been so kind, considerate and friendly; it has been overwhelming.”

And these two mothers remain staunchly dedicated to the search for their son, daughter, and two little grandsons.

“The nights are the worst,” said Blake. “Your thoughts go different ways; you pray and you cry. I understand families that have one missing person, but four? I can’t help but worry if the babies are being fed; if they are okay. They don’t deserve this.”

The family has created a Web site, http://www.McStayFamily.com, to keep the case before the public eye. San Diego County Crime Stoppers at (888) 580-8477 has offered a reward of up to $1,000 for information that leads to an arrest in the

case. Anyone with information on this case may call the Sheriff’s Department at (858) 565-5200.

(previous story Mar. 25, 2010 2:10 p.m.)

Investigation into missing McStay family focuses on Mexico

Debbie Ramsey

Managing Editor

The investigation into the disappearance of the McStay family of four last seen on Feb. 4 is more focused in Mexico at this time, authorities said, after video surveillance tapes revealed a family generally matching their description was spotted crossing the US/Mexico border at approximately 7 p.m. on Feb. 7.

However, Sheriff’s Lt. Dennis Brugos said authorities cannot positively identify that it was the McStay family in the film footage they reviewed.

“Family members looked at the video and the clothing the family was wearing, and were ‘pretty certain’ it was them, but the film was shot from the rear, so there is a little bit of uncertainty about it,” said Brugos. “We are saying there is a high probability it was the McStays. Some of the family members were more certain about it than others.”

Brugos also said the family depicted on the tape “didn’t appear to be under any kind of duress when they were crossing the border.”

Assuming the family crossed into Mexico, Brugos said the focus of the investigation is now centered in Mexico.

“Our international liaisons are working with the Mexican officials,” he said. “It is definitely still an ongoing investigation.”

Brugos also confirmed that the investigation has not yet revealed any suspected wrongdoing, criminal involvement, or evidence of foul play.

“There is nothing that has jumped out at us that suggests criminal activity,” said Brugos. “If [the McStays] voluntarily left the country, there is nothing unlawful about that, but it’s a little unusual.”

Brugos said numerous questions have come to his mind, “Was this planned?” “Were they just going out for the evening?” “Did they plan on going out to dinner in Tijuana and something went wrong?” Brugos said if the family had been victims of a kidnapping, a demand would probably have been made.

“Generally if people get in trouble, family or friends hear about it,” he said. Brugos said relatives of the family have continually reported they have not heard from them.

“Many we have interviewed have said the family would never, ever go to Mexico,” said Brugos. “Now, as the investigation has progressed, some say they ‘might’ have gone there; that the husband may have gone there for a business purpose.”

Brugos said the family did use various cell phones in the past, but the corresponding phone they made calls from on Feb. 4 has not been recovered in the investigation.

“Those phones have not been found,” he confirmed.

Brugos remains baffled. “I’ve never seen a case like this. Sometimes people will take off for a weekend or slightly more without notifying anyone, but they don’t leave their dogs without food or water, leave food on their kitchen counter, and drop out of sight.”

Detectives have examined the Mc Stay family’s 1996 Isuzu Trooper that was discovered in an impound lot about four hours after they were believed to be seen on the video tape crossing into Mexico, as well as their home located in the Lake Rancho Viejo area of the Fallbrook/Bonsall area.

“We have not found any evidence of a struggle or a forced entry anywhere,” said Brugos. “If [the family] met with tragedy, I just have a feeling we would have known that by now.”

Joseph McStay’s business associates appear to be just as puzzled as law enforcement. “They are just as baffled as we are and concerned about the business that he was a partner in,” said Brugos.

Brugos did give significant credit to the Center for Missing or Exploited Children for a role they played in the investigation.

“We are very appreciative of what they have done for us in this investigation; they have worldwide contacts,” said Brugos. “They also brought in a team and spent hours going through the border surveillance tapes and narrowed it down to the segment we believe may have been the McStay family.” Brugos said the review of the tapes was no small task.

“The number of people that cross that border daily is around 100,000; I can’t say enough good things about that organization; they were very gracious,” he said.

The McStay family’s relatives have created a Web site, http://www.McStayFamily.com, to keep the case before the public and San Diego County Crime Stoppers at (888) 580-8477 has offered a reward of up to $1,000 for information that leads to an arrest in the case. Anyone with information on the McStays’ whereabouts has been asked to call the Sheriff’s Department at (858) 974-2321.

To comment on this story online, visit http://www.thevillagenews.com.

To read additional previous stories

Authorities distribute "endangered missing" flier pertaining to missing McStay familyhttp://www.thevillagenews.com/story/45499/

Homicide lieutenant says his team is not giving up search for McStay familyhttp://www.thevillagenews.com/story/45872/

 

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