A public paddle-out memorial and church service were held Saturday in Southern California for San Diego’s slain McStay family.
According to a website managed by surviving family members, the public paddle-out memorial was scheduled for 2 p.m. at the San Clemente Pier. Loved ones planned to release four leis into the ocean during the beach ceremony – one for each member of the family: parents Joseph and Summer McStay, and their young sons, 4-year-old Gianni McStay and 3-year-old Joseph Mateo McStay.
"It's a sad day but, they're in heaven," said Joseph McStay's mother, Susan Blake, who attended a church service dedicated to the McStays at the Vineyard Community Church in Laguna Niguel, Calif. The service was held prior the paddle-out and began at noon inside the church located at 27632 El Lazo.
Blake said she was thankful for the support she and her family have received since the McStays went missing in February 2010.
"I wanted to show the whole world appreciation for all the love and support you've given us," Blake said. "We know we were loved, and they were loved."
By 3 p.m., surfers were paddling out into the water, holding hands in remembrance of the Fallbrook family. They splashed water at one another and cheered as a large crowd of family and friends looked on from the sand and from up on the pier. Attendees also released orchids into the water and light candles in loving tribute of the McStays.
"It was beautiful, it was intimate, it was precious and sweet," said McStay family friend, Linda Cooper.
According to loved ones organizing the event, the family “loved the beach, ocean and others,” so the San Clemente Pier was the perfect place for the memorial.
Ken Aranda, Summer McStay's brother, echoed the sentiments.
"This is something they loved," Summer said. "This is something we all can enjoy and it's something to remember them by, so definitely going to get some closure."
On Nov. 11 – more than three-and-a-half years after mysteriously vanishing from their Fallbrook home – the skeletal remains of the McStay family were found in and around shallow graves in the high desert outside of Victorville, Calif.
Soon after the disheartening discovery, San Bernardino County officials positively identified the remains as all four missing McStay family members: Joseph, Summer, Gianni and Joseph Jr.
The family disappeared on Feb. 4, 2010, leaving few clues behind in a case that baffled San Diego law enforcement and captured international attention.
Over the years, Joseph McStay, brother, Michael McStay, has managed and updated a website documenting the case and search for his relatives.
Last month, an update was posted to the website about the public memorial service and beach paddle-out at the San Clemente Pier.
The invitation asked “all surfers to paddle out at the San Clemente Pier, light candles, release leis and enjoy the beach, as Joey & Summer, Gianni & Joey Jr. did.”
The post read, in part:
“We have finally been able to bring the McStay Family Home from the Coroner’s Office and are preparing to have the public memorial service and beach paddle out at the San Clemente Pier. My family is overwhelmed by the love and support friends and strangers have shown us from around the world, including the donations made on the family’s website.”
Though the grim discovery of the McStay family was a major break for officials, the case remains under investigation. Since the family’s sudden disappearance, the mystery has been filled with twists, turns and dead ends.
Days after the McStay family vanished, a group of four people resembling the McStays was captured on grainy surveillance video crossing into Mexico at the San Ysidro border crossing on Feb. 8, 2010.
This was the same day a white Isuzu Trooper belonging to the family was found illegally parked at a nearby strip mall. At the time, detectives felt it was “a very high probability” that the footage was of the missing family.
When officials showed the video to relatives of the McStay family, some recognized the white jacket the woman in the video was wearing. However, other relatives said they weren’t sure it was the McStays due to the poor quality of the video.
Since the family’s sudden disappearance, the McStays hadn't used their bank accounts, credit cards or cell phones, investigators have repeatedly said.
In April 2013, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department announced they were transferring the case of the McStay family to the FBI.
The sheriff’s department said they had “conducted an exhaustive missing person investigation in an attempt to locate the family” and hundreds of tips had been investigated without success. At that point, the sheriff’s department said they had reached a consensus that the family went to Mexico of their free will.
Until Nov. 11, there had been no major breaks in the case. Now, the investigation has turned from finding the McStay family to figuring out what exactly happened to them.
At a press conference in November, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said investigators had not yet determined the cause or motive behind the victims’ deaths, including if the family may have fallen prey to Mexican cartels.
“It’s too early to tell if it’s cartel-related or any other suspects,” said McMahon.
Last month at a press conference, an emotional Michael McStay vowed to figure out what happened to his beloved family.
“We’re going to find this individual, or individuals. I know the sheriff’s department, the FBI, everybody wants to bring this to justice. And, if it’s the last thing I do – I just want to know when it’s over,” he said.