Officials investigating four sets of human remains found in the Mojave Desert in California believe they are the bodies of the long-missing McStay family.
Nearly four years ago, the McStays left their home in suburban San Diego County on a chilly February night and piled into their Isuzu Trooper.
Parents Joseph, 43, and Summer McStay, 40, and young sons Gianni and Joseph Jr. left behind two dogs, two bowls of popcorn and a mystery.
Their car turned up four days later in the parking lot of a mini-mall near the U.S.-Mexico border, with a few birthday toys for one of the boys tossed in back.
There was no sign of the McStays, until this week.
Relatives never believed the theory that the family had left for Mexico; instead they suspected foul play. Now, tragically, it looks like they were correct.
KFMB says officials have notified relatives that two sets of the human remains found in the desert were identified as Joseph and Summer McStay.
San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies also uncovered the skeletal remains of two small bodies believed to be their boys, authorities said Friday.
An off-road motorcyclist noticed a few scattered bones four days earlier, near what turned out to be a pair of shallow graves on the edge of the desert.
After years of false leads and purported sightings in the region, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon put at least part of the mystery to rest.
He announced that the four McStays were homicide victims. But, the sheriff said, it would take more investigation before detectives could know how or why.
"It's not really the outcome we were looking for," Joseph McStay's brother, Michael, said, pausing at the podium of a San Bernardino news conference.
"But it gives us courage to know they're together and they're in a better place."
The brother described the "tough road" his family has endured and asked the media to give them space for grieving. A half dozen relatives sat nearby, in tears.
From the time the family disappeared in February 2010, detectives in San Diego County said they were baffled by the case, as the family had no enemies.
No signs of forced entry or a struggle at the McStays' home were found.
No one reported a trace of them until the following Monday, when security guards at the small shopping center in San Ysidro, Calif., found the SUV.
They had the car towed, seemingly just another belonging to visitors who illegally parked in the lot before taking the pedestrian crossing to Mexico.
The Isuzu yielded no significant clues. Investigators wondered if the McStays had simply walked over the border, for reasons unknown, never to return.
That theory gained traction when video from a surveillance camera at the border revealed pictures of a man and woman, each holding a small boy's hand.
Also raising eyebrows with police? An FBI forensic lab had picked through family computers and found other possible hints of an impending trip to Mexico.
Someone had searched: "What documents do children need for traveling to Mexico?" Another search indicated a possible interest in Spanish lessons.
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