Two sets of skeletal remains found buried in the California desert earlier this week have been identified as the parents in a family that vanished nearly four years ago, and the remaining bones are likely their two young sons, police said on Friday.
Coroner's investigators used dental records to identify the remains of Joseph McStay, 40, and his wife Summer, 43, who were reported missing from the San Diego area in February 2010 along with their two children, San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Cindy Bachman said.
Autopsies were still under way but DNA tests will likely be required to formally identify what are thought to be the remains of Gianni McStay, 4, and his 3-year-old brother, Joseph, Bachman said, and may take weeks to complete
The coroner's office has classified all four deaths as homicides, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said, adding that the means in which the victims were believed slain would not be released during the ongoing investigation.
"Every available resource will be utilized in this investigation to identify the suspects involved in this heinous crime and bring them to justice," McMahon said.
Bachman declined to discuss what other evidence may have been found near the graves but said investigators spent two days processing the scene.
San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies were dispatched to a remote desert area on the outskirts of Victorville, about 70 miles northeast of Los Angeles, on Monday after a off-road motorcyclist reported finding what he thought were human bones.
An excavation by authorities, assisted by a forensic anthropologist, turned up four sets of skeletal remains buried in two shallow graves.
The McStay family was last seen at their home in the San Diego suburb of Fallbrook on Feb. 4, 2010. Their car had been towed away after it was left in a parking lot just blocks from the California border with Mexico.
The San Diego Union Tribune newspaper reported that a search of the family's computer turned up evidence that they were planning to travel to Mexico, with Summer purchasing Spanish-language software and someone looking up passport requirements for children traveling there.
Police have also released a grainy videotape that they said appeared to show the family crossing the border at San Ysidro, more than 100 miles south of the desolate stretch of California desert where their bodies were ultimately found.
The FBI joined the missing-persons case earlier this year but Bachman said it was now considered a murder investigation.
"It's not really the outcome we were looking for but it gives us courage to know that they are together and they are in a better place," Joseph McStay's brother, Mike, told reporters at a tearful press conference following the identification of the remains.