After seven long and grueling months, countless hours of searching by family, law enforcement and volunteers, handing out flyers, and missed birthdays and holidays, the family of Rosario Garcia can now have closure. Garcia’s remains were located 500 feet from her vehicle Jan. 24 by the Fowler-O’Sullivan Foundation with the help of Western States Aerial Search.
The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department (RCSD) released the following Thursday, Feb. 18: “On Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, personnel from RMRU, Riverside County Search Dogs, Riverside County Coroner’s Bureau, Riverside County Forensics, Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team and personnel from the Hemet Station responded to the the Mountain Center area and conducted a search in an area where information was received that possible human remains had been seen. Human remains consistent with an adult female were located in the area as well as items belonging to Rosario Garcia. Our Coroner’s Bureau was able to obtain a positive identification that the remains belonged to Rosario Garcia. There is no evidence of foul play.”
The Fowler-O’Sullivan Foundation (FOF) was founded in 2017 when it started searching for David O’Sullivan and Kris Fowler, two hikers who went missing while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and have yet to be located. O’Sullivan was last seen in Idyllwild in 2017. The FOF became an official nonprofit in March 2020. While the organization has worked many search and recovery cases in the western United States, locating Garcia was its first recovery since becoming incorporated.
The Western States Aerial Search (WSAS), located in Utah, is a charity-based organization made up of professional drone pilots who focus on search and recovery.
“We are a team of UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] pilots dedicated to searching for missing persons in the Western U.S. No fee EVER, and we do not accept rewards,” the organization wrote on its Facebook page.
FOF Executive Director Cathy Tarr spoke with the Town Crier in a phone interview.
“We have been in the Idyllwild area for some time searching for David O’Sullivan, because of that, we noticed the articles in the Town Crier,” Tarr said. “When we saw the Garcia story still in the news after a couple of trips up there, we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to bring in some of our resources to try to help locate her.”
One of those resources was WSAS. The team of four pilots came down from Utah and flew four drones from Jan. 22 to 24 taking thousands of images — 4,000 to be exact. The images were handed over to FOF.
Tarr said, “By the evening of Jan. 24 we had images, and on a couple of images, with no doubt we could see it was Ms. Garcia. She was about 500 feet from her car down a steep embankment with her purse and identification inside of it.”
According to Tarr, FOF took the RCSD to the location on Jan. 25.
“Ambiguous loss is what these families go through,” Tarr said. “They’re stuck and they cannot move forward until they know what happened to their loved one, and that’s what we do. We are super excited that that’s what we could do for the Garcia family. Our first official case as a nonprofit and we found the person.” Adding, “We’re just trying to bring some of these hikers home. While Ms. Garcia wasn’t a hiker, she was in a hiker area of trails. So, if somebody goes missing like her, then we’ll look at the case and may take it.”
Garcia was last seen at her home July 7, 2020 in Hemet by her family. According to Garcia’s family, her car was found on Sawmill Trail 5E02 in Pinyon Pines two days after she was last seen, but there was no sign of Garcia.
Garcia, who was 73 years old at the time she disappeared, was suffering from the onset of Alzheimer's Disease, which the family thinks she had for about two years.
While she didn’t travel far from home, she did still enjoy trips to the casinos and would run errands near her home in Hemet.
For more information about donating or to join the FOF team, visit fofound.org.