When Sheila Tubbs received a message that Westminster police called her Tuesday, her heart skipped a beat.
The Newport Beach resident thought they might have news of her brother, who has been missing for two years.
It turned out the police were inviting her to a DNA collection event Saturday where Orange County law enforcement officials hope to help residents like Tubbs find out what may have happened to their missing relatives.
The Orange County sheriff’s coroner division is inviting anyone with a missing family member to show up and provide DNA, which can help investigators make a match with unidentified bodies.
Tubbs, of course, hopes her brother, Gary Patton, is still alive. But finding out anything that would explain his fate would at least provide closure “because then you could close the book on it entirely,” Tubbs told City News Service.
Tubbs’ eyes plays tricks on her frequently when she’s out shopping or anywhere else in public. She said she “should have taken a picture” of a man she saw at the store recently who looked like her brother’s “twin.”
Patton, then 64, went to Mexico for what was meant to be a trip of a few days in September 2013, Tubbs said. He had just moved into a new apartment in Westminster and “it was probably one of the best times of his life,” his sister said.
The Vietnam veteran had recently retired and was enjoying hobbies like photography, she said. When he checked into his hotel in Mexico, he told a desk clerk he wanted to take pictures at a fishing tournament, Tubbs said, but he never made it there. His vehicle was found in March of last year stuck in sand.
Investigators suspect he may have tried to walk somewhere for help in the remote area, where the nearest town was Catavina, Tubbs said.
“It looks like Death Valley from the satellite picture,” she said.
The family has done virtually everything it can to find Patton, even hiring a private investigator at one point, Tubbs said. There has been no activity on his financial records since he went missing, she said.
Even though her brother disappeared in Mexico, she said she’s looking forward to participating in Saturday’s event because perhaps Patton got over the border somewhere in his search for help.
The aim of Saturday’s event is to collect as much DNA samples as possible so they can be matched against whatever genetic material authorities have in their database of unidentified bodies.
County officials assured the public the DNA swabs would not be inputted into a criminal database, and that donors could request to have the genetic information removed from the government’s records at any time.
Coroner’s officials said the emergence of new technology for familial DNA helped them solve the case of Percy Ray Carson, who was seen slipping under the water in Huntington Beach in July 1992. No one was able to get to him, and he was presumed drowned, but no one found a body.
A thigh bone washed up on Seal Beach a couple of months later, and an anthropologist noted it could have come from Carson, said Tiffany Williams, a senior deputy coroner.
Eighteen months after Carson’s disappearance, a jaw bone washed up ashore, as well, and DNA testing was done in 2007. Carson was not in the state’s database, however, and the case went unresolved.
But when the case was recently reopened, investigators asked Carson’s family for DNA samples that were used to make a match to the missing man’s bones, Williams said.
According to Orange County sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Hallock, there are 60 male and 27 female unidentified bodies in Orange County. The coroner has about 13 additional cases with just bones for which investigators cannot determine the gender, he said.
The Identify the Missing event will start at 9 a.m. Saturday at the coroner’s training center offices at 1071 W. Santa Ana Blvd., Santa Ana.
¯ City News Service