Authorities in San Bernardino County confirmed Friday that the human remains found buried in shallow graves in a remote desert area were those of a San Diego area family that vanished years ago.
With emotional family members at his side, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said investigators had identified Joseph and Summer McStay, who had been missing since 2010, through dental records.
Two other small bodies are believed to be those of the couple's young boys, Gianni and Joseph Jr. Further tests are being done to positively confirm the identities
Autopsies are expected to be completed Friday. McMahon said that the deaths have been ruled as homicides but the cause of death will not be released because of the ongoing investigation.
Now that the mystery of where the family ended up has been answered, a whole new investigation into how they got there has begun. San Bernardino County sheriff's investigators will now take over the case.
"We've only spent a day or two looking into this, and we have a lot of work to do to get up to speed," McMahon told reporters at a Friday news conference at sheriff's department headquarters.
Authorities did not disclose information regarding any evidence discovered at the gravesite that pointed to identifiable suspects.
Officials have reviewed a video from around the time they went missing that shows a family close to the description of the McStays walking through a pedestrian border crossing into Mexico. That evidence led some to suspect that the family had fled the country, but McMahon said Friday that it was possible that the people in the video were not the McStays.
The remains were discovered Monday, when a off-road motorcyclist riding through the area came across a smattering of bones. The location was about 50 yards from a dirt road.
The motorcyclist didn't know if they were human or animal bones, but felt compelled to report the sighting to the sheriff's department.
Authorities said it appeared that animals had dug into the one- to two-foot graves, and had scattered some of the remains. Still, coroner's officials said the skeletal remains were mostly intact.
As authorities discussed the grim discovery, family members -- including Joseph McStay's brother and mother, and Summer's mother and sister -- sat off to the side, many of them wearing sunglasses to shield their faces as they grimaced and sobbed.
"It's not really the outcome we were looking for," said Joseph's brother, Michael McStay, having to pause at the podium as he began to cry. "It gives us courage to know they're together and they're in a better place."
"It's been a tough road," he said, as he asked for time and space to "go through the grieving process."
The case has received widespread attention over the years, and he acknowledged that along with that interest has come support that bolstered the family as it dealt with the pain of not knowing what happened to their relatives and more so now that their fate is known.
"They're a loving family," he said, "and I know all of America loves the McStays."
Now he desperately wants answers. "If it's the last thing I do, I want to, I just want to know when it's over."
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