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 (FOF) with the help of Western States Aerial Search (WSAS).
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 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 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 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.”
Laura Atencio, Garcia’s daughter-in-law wrote the following on her Facebook page Thursday: “So as many of my friends and family know by now, my mother-in-law Rosario Garcia remains were found. This has been very hard and excruciatingly 7 months. She missed her birthday. [S]he missed family birthdays, the holidays; she was very missed.
“I just want to share something with you guys a lady by the name of Cathy Tarr had been following our story in the Idyllwild Town Crier. This special lady right here is a part of a foundation called FOWLER-O’SULLIVAN FOUNDATION. [S]he said she had been reading about her every weekend and although her foundation mainly goes after missing hikers, she thought if she’s up on that mountain, they would find her.
“And THEY DID! They are [a] nonprofit organization and they did this for us, something that the county agencies couldn’t and that was find her and bring her home to us. When I spoke with her, I called her our Angels because she and her crew did something no one else could do for us. I want to thank them by name. [T]hey deserve the recognition!!!!
“Fowler-O’Sullivan members: Cathy Tarr, Morgan Clements, Pam Coronado [and] Andy Lankford
“Western States Aerial Search: Greg Nuckols, James Badham, Justin Holm and Brad Larson.
“THANK YOU ALL VERY MUCH. [W]e owe you the most-deepest sincere thank you. I would also like to say that if you would like to help donate to this foundation @ Fowler-O’Sullivan Foundation email: [email protected]
“Look them up!!! They have loved ones missing that are still missing and they continue searching for.
“Thank you all!! [A]nd when I say all, I mean ALL of you; all this community came together and prayed, put up fliers, searched and had hopes along with us. On behalf of the family, we thank you all for your support.
“Rest in peace Chata.
“In respect for our family, this is the only statement we will be making, and we hope everyone can respect our privacy at this hard moment.”
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 after RCSD conducted a search of the area.
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.
Four people remain missing
Eight people have gone missing in the area since March of last year and four remain missing.
On Sept. 10, an RCSD SUV was spotted hauling an off-road vehicle near Highway 243 and Saunders Meadow Road.
According to Hemet Sheriff Station Capt. Leonard Purvis, “They were conducting follow-up searches for Melissa Lane.”
While it was unclear exactly where on the mountain deputies were searching for Lane, Purvis also confirmed that the search didn’t provide any further information or evidence of where Lane may have gone missing.
Lane, 41, was last seen June 15, according to a poster that was displayed in the Mountain Center area. The Town Crier spoke to Kathy Lamont, Lane’s mother, right after she was reported missing.
“She was an avid hiker but didn’t have a destination,” Lamont said. “She was last seen in Pine Cove. I don’t know if she’s dead or alive.”
Outside of the search for Lane, the community has not received any updates on the other three missing people. Friends, family and the community have been left in the dark.
Roy Prifogle was reported missing after going on a hike in the Pine Cove area Wednesday, March 4. He left home at about 1 p.m. and was last seen at the Pine Cove Market at 6:30 p.m. the same day. He was last seen wearing a red backpack and jeans.
RCSD Deputy Jeremy Parsons said, “After six full days of searching in between inclement weather, searching 8 to 10 hours per day, Prifogle has not been located. The Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit (RMRU), as well as search and rescue volunteers from San Bernardino County, Orange County and San Diego County, were assisting. In total, about 150 people have been searching during those six days.” Also adding, “On the second or third day of the search, we found his backpack, but have found no other clues as to his whereabouts.”
On Sunday, June 7 at approximately 8:24 a.m., Hemet Station deputies were dispatched to the 58000 block of Bonita Vista in reference to a missing person.
Lydia “Dia” Abrams was placed into the system as a missing person.
Abrams was 65 years old at the time she went missing, 5’ 5” tall, 130 pounds with blonde hair and blue eyes. She was last seen wearing a black and turquoise jacket, yellow shirt and blue jeans.
Abrams was last seen June 6 by her self-proclaimed live-in boyfriend Keith Harper at her ranch in Apple Canyon (between Mountain Center and Garner Valley). Since the initial search efforts eight months ago, the RCSD has not provided new information or updates regarding her disappearance despite weekly inquiries from the Town Crier.
David Gotfredson, investigative producer from News 8 out of San Diego, has also been following the case since the beginning. In a recent broadcast Gotfredson reported that News 8 and drone pilot, Steve Jensen, made their way out to Grand Wash Cliffs in Arizona to do some searching of their own.
Gotfredson and Jensen spent multiple hours over a two-day period searching the cliffs and surrounding area for remains or clothing that match what Abrams was last reported wearing. Unfortunately, they didn’t find anything.
According to Gotfredson’s story, Harper was in “the Grand Wash Cliffs area a few weeks before Abrams went missing.” He owns about 85 acres of land. While Harper lived with Abrams at her ranch, two days after she went missing, Harper left the state, driving through Arizona to get to New Mexico.
Gotfredson reported that the San Juan County Sheriff in New Mexico obtained a search warrant and deputies impounded the RV Harper drove to New Mexico taking evidence from inside. However, the RCSD has not provided any persons of interest or suspects regarding Abrams or any of the other missing people.
According to RMRU, their team of volunteers was dispatched to Abrams’ 160-acre ranch in the Apple Canyon area June 9. They conducted a search from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. with no success of finding Abrams.
RMRU went out again June 10 to search more difficult areas on the property including a creek bed and the hills overlooking her ranch. All assignments were completed by 6 p.m. At that point, detectives took over the investigation and called off the physical ground search.
The most recent woman to go missing from the Hemet/San Jacinto area is 27-year-old Diana Perez Gonzalez who was reported missing Dec. 11. According to family, Gonzalez visited the Idyllwild area regularly. She was last seen by her boyfriend.
Christy Rojas, Gonzalez’s sister, and her family are struggling with her sister missing.
Rojas said, “We’ve been terribly sad. We think about her every day and have dreams of her, waiting for any sign or a miracle because we miss her and love her a lot. But the most important, her baby needs her. We can see the sadness in her eyes. Although she can’t speak, we know she misses her mom.” Gonzalez is also pregnant.
If you have any information regarding the whereabouts of Roy Prifogle, Lydia “Dia” Abrams, Diana Perez Gonzalez or Melissa Lane, contact the RCSD at 800-950-2444.