The Disappearance of Bryce Laspisa

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EARLY LIFE:

Bryce Laspisa was born on April 30, 1994 to parents Mike and Karen Laspisa. Growing up in Illinois, he attended Naperville Central High School, from which he graduated in 2012. After this, he and his family relocated to Laguna Niguel, California.

With the ability to light up a room with his charisma, Bryce had many friends. He was described as being incredibly funny and, according to his friends, he was a happy guy who would often invite them to hang out at his house.

Bryce was a talented artist, with the ability to draw and build. He pursued this interest at Sierra College in Rocklin, California, where he was a sophomore. Through courses in industrial and graphic design, he was able to develop an extensive portfolio to showcase his work.

While at college in his freshman year, he met his then girlfriend, Kim Sly, who he is said to have been very respectful toward.

LEAD UP TO DISAPPEARANCE:

Around August 28, 2013, Bryce’s friends began to notice a shift in his behaviour. His roommate was especially concerned and called Karen to fill her in on what was happening. He told her Bryce was acting strange and had unexpectedly broken up with Kim over text. He also shared that Bryce had indicated something was troubling him, but no one had been able to figure out what. According to the roommate, his behaviour had shifted after he and a friend had spent a night playing video games, while taking an ADHD drug to stay awake.

A couple of hours after receiving a call from her son’s roommate, Karen got one from Bryce himself. He had driven to Kim’s place in Chico, California, approximately 90 miles from his own apartment. When Kim took the phone, she told Karen that she felt Bryce wasn’t acting like himself, which worried her, and she felt he shouldn’t be driving. This was despite Bryce telling her he was okay.

Concerned about her son’s wellbeing, Karen offered to visit Bryce the next day, but he told her not to come and reassured her he was fine. He explained how he wanted to talk to her, but didn’t state what about. After this conversation, the phone was returned to Kim and Karen told her to give Bryce his keys back, but only if he promised to call her in the morning.

At 11:30pm, Bryce left Kim’s house.

At around 1:00am on August 29, Bryce called Karen, who assumed he was back at his apartment in Rocklin. However, cell towers would show he had been heading further south, past Sierra College and toward the mountains.

Later in the morning, his parents received a message from their auto insurance provider, who informed them that Bryce’s car needed roadside assistance. Worried, Karen called her son’s roommate, who informed her that Bryce hadn’t returned home the night before.

In their search for clues, Mike and Karen noticed a charge on their credit card statement from Buttonwillow, California, an area known for being a truck stop off Interstate 5. The town was a few hours from Laguna Niguel, so the pair assumed Bryce was on his way to their house.

At 9:00am, Mike traced the charge to Castro Tire and Truck, a repair shop near the freeway. When contacted, the man who worked there said he had been called after Bryce had run out of gas, to whom he delivered three gallons. Hearing the concern in Karen’s voice, the man offered to go back and see if Bryce was still in the area. When he did, he called Karen back and put her son on the phone, where he told her nothing was wrong. She then told him to grab some gas and make his way home.

At this point in time, his parents expected him to arrive around 3:00pm.

When 3:30pm rolled around and Bryce still hadn’t arrived in Laguna Niguel, Karen began to reach out to him, but received no response. She kept on trying to contact her son for the next several hours, until she and Mike decided to file a missing persons report with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department at around 6:00pm.

Upon receiving the report, those with the police department pinged Bryce’s cellphone and discovered he was still in Buttonwillow. What’s more, he had only travelled eight miles from where he had been serviced for the gas. When they located Bryce near the interstate, deputies performed a sobriety test and searched his car. They found no evidence of alcohol or drugs, and felt Bryce was acting normal, as he was nice, talkative and alert. When asked what he was doing, he claimed to be blowing off some steam, so they took his delay in returning home as him trying to regain his focus before facing his parents.

When told he needed to call his mother, Bryce was reluctant at first, resulting in the deputies having to dial her number and put him on the phone with her. When Karen asked them if they felt he was okay to drive, they were confident that he was and left him to make his own way home.

A few hours later, with Bryce still not home, Karen called the man at the repair shop, who once again offered to check on her son. When he arrived where Bryce was last seen, he found him still there and offered to follow him until he made it onto the freeway. Approximately 30 minutes later, Bryce was back on the road, driving toward Laguna Niguel.

Over the next couple of hours, Bryce and his parents kept in contact over the phone, with them asking for him to name any landmarks and street signs he saw, in the aim of gauging how long it would take for him to arrive. However, he was reluctant to do so, saying he didn’t see any.

At 2:09am on August 30, Bryce called Karen and told her he was pulling over for the night, as he was too tired to keep driving.

DISAPPEARANCE:

At 8:00am, the doorbell of the Laspisa’s home rang. When the opened the front door, a California Highway Patrol Officer met them and asked if they owned a 2003 beige Toyota Highlander. When they told him their son was driving it, he informed them that, at 5:30am that morning, the vehicle had been found abandoned in Castaic Lake, off an access road to the State Recreation Area, just two hours north. It had been crashed and was found on its side at the bottom of a 25′ embankment, adjacent to the lake’s main boat access road.

According to the patrol officer, the back window had been broken from the inside, and given Bryce wasn’t with the wreckage, it appeared most likely that he’d been inside at the time of the crash and broken his way out. His laptop and phone were found in the car, while his duffel bag and wallet were outside, near the rear window. Bryce’s blood was found on the passenger headrest and on the backseat, but there was no evidence he had sustained serious injury.

A preliminary examination of the scene suggested that, before dawn, for unknown reasons, Bryce drove off the service road into a rest area, along a cell tower and toward the lake, accelerating as he did so. It also appeared as though Bryce believed the lake to have been a lot closer to the cell tower than it actually was, as the area creates an optical illusion of sorts.

SEARCH:

Given the scene, investigators believed Bryce’s actions were deliberate, which led them to theorize that he had been suicidal at the time of the accident.

According to his friends, Bryce’s behaviour had become more reckless upon him returning to school, with him drinking a lot of hard liquor and taking the aforementioned ADHD drugs. His roommate also stated he’d begun giving away his property, including his much-used Xbox and a pair of diamond earrings. While his parents don’t understand why their son would do this, authorities feel it could indicate Bryce was experiencing a crisis, prompted by his heavy drinking and drug use, as either could have had unpredictable side effects, leading to him either wanting to die by suicide or run away. However, Mike and Karen dispute this, saying that, while their son experimented, he hadn’t been struggling with substance abuse and that he’d appeared fine during the summer.

Upon the car being discovered, a large-scale search was conducted, consisting of hundreds of deputies and volunteers, as well as search and rescue crews, cadaver dogs, and divers. Done by foot, ATV and via helicopter, the hills, lake and shoreline were searched. However, the weekend-long search brought up no evidence.

No witnesses reported seeing Bryce in the Santa Clarita Valley around the time of the accident. During the initial days of his disappearance, Bryce’s parents received numerous tips and possible sightings from across the western United States, but nothing panned out.

To help spread awareness, Mike made up missing persons flyers, while Karen got ahold of the media. However, despite their efforts, no viable leads surfaced. When asked about Bryce’s mindset before his disappearance, the pair said he’d sounded lucid whenever they spoke with him, and they shared that they felt he wouldn’t have walked away from the accident willingly, as he wasn’t known to hitchhike or enjoy outdoor activities. He was also unfamiliar with the Castaic Lake area.

On September 4, 2013, a jogger called 911 to report a brush fire, just three miles from where the car was crashed. When first responders arrived, they discovered a burning body. While at first it was believed to be Bryce, forensic testing proved it to be an LA man who had been the victim of a homicide.

A billboard was erected in Castaic Lake, featuring Bryce’s image and information.

Police say surveillance footage from August 30 showed stills of his car on two separate occasions, near where it had been found. The camera had taken pictures of his license plate at 2:15am, six minutes after he had called Karen to let her know he was going off-road to rest, and at 4:29am. While police don’t know why he was in the area, they feel he had been contemplating something.

Nine days after Bryce disappeared, bloodhounds were used to try and track his scent to where he may have went after the car wreck. They caught his scent and followed it to a dam on the lake, trailed it across the dam and down south, toward the west side of the lake. It then went toward the truck stop area on Castaic Road. This led investigators to believe he may have chosen to walk away from the accident and his life, possibly hitchhiking with a truck driver and disappearing.

According to the evidence investigators have, there are no indications he met with foul played or died by suicide. They believe that, if he had taken his own life, they would have found him at the lake. They feel knowing what he had wanted to talk to his mother about could be the key to figuring out the case. However, this is disputed by the Laspisas, who say whatever it was most likely doesn’t hold any significance to their son’s disappearance.

After three weeks, all search efforts were called off. Local coffee shops and stories were credited in aiding those searching, as they allowed volunteers to meet in and use their facilities to coordinate search parties.

Months passed with no new leads, so the family hired private investigator Denise Savastano, who specializes in missing persons cases. Savastano offered her services pro bono and believed Bryce had wanted to go home to Laguna Niguel, based on the coordinates plugged into his GPS. This led her to speculate that he could have suffered a head injury as a result of the crash, leaving him disoriented. She also theorized that he could have suffered a psychotic break as a result of his drug use, resulting in his erratic behaviour.

In August 2015, Savastano and the Laspisa family hired a sonar specialist to search the lake, using sound waves to generate images of the lake bottom. They believed that, if Bryce had been suicidal, he would have entered the deep water at Government Cove. However, two 12-hours days brought up no new evidence.

The family is currently offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the return of their son.

Bryce’s license, SSN, fingerprints and passport have been uploaded to a nationwide missing persons system. His dental records are also available.

THEORIES:

1) The initial theory held by those investigating Bryce’s disappearance, and one some still hold to be true, is that he died by suicide. This is substantiated by his erratic behaviour in the days before he went missing, such as him giving away his possessions and refusing to leave the Buttonwillow area. As well, there is the car wreck, which shows evidence of having been done intentionally. However, this theory tends to be one both the family and investigators have turned away from.

2) Those investigating the case believe Bryce willing walked away from his life. Investigators are convinced he is still alive and doesn’t wish to be found. This is supported by the lack of evidence and a body at Castaic Lake and the area’s location near the freeway. Bryce’s family doesn’t give credence to this theory, saying their son would never run away. They also feel he would have been open with them if anything had been on his mind or bothering him.

3) Mike and Karen, along with Denise Savastano, believed Bryce is alive and is possibly suffering from a head injury. According to them, the injury could have caused amnesia, resulting in him not knowing who he is. This would explain why he hasn’t tried to reach out to them.

AFTERMATH:

Karen has shared that not knowing the location of her son is worse than him being dead.

Numerous vigils have been held in order to keep Bryce’s case in the public eye. On his 20th birthday, his parents went to Castaic Lake to mark the occasion.

In order to help bring in new leads, the Laspisas set up the FIND BRYCE LASPISA Facebook page.

CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:

Bryce Laspisa went missing from Castaic, California on August 30, 2013. He was 19 years old and was last seen wearing white cargo pants, a blue and white checker shirt, and size 12 red and white Nike shoes. At the time of his disappearance, he was 5’11” and weighed approximately 170 pounds. He has red hair and green eyes, and has a tattoo of a Taurus bullhead and his birthday in numerals on his upper left arm. His ears are pierced.

Currently, his case is classified as endangered missing. If alive, he would be 24 years old.

If you have any information regarding the case, you can contact the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office at 323-890-5500 or the official tip line at 949-292-440. Tips can be submitted through email via findbrycelaspisa@gmail.com.

Image Credit: CBS Los Angeles

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3 comments on “The Disappearance of Bryce Laspisa”

  1. Just a minor correction – he went to Naperville High school in Illinois, not in California. The only reason I mention it, is because he assuredly had friends in Naperville, since he was 18 when they moved to Cali and could potentially – hopefully – have reached out to them, if he’d ran away from his family for some reason or a psychotic break, etc

  2. This still breaks my heart, when the story first broke it really spoke to me having a son close in age myself.
    For weeks after Bryce went missing I put up thousands of fliers and joined many of the organized searches. I was fortunate to have been able to meet Bryce’s parents as well as his uncle. My take away from having met them is the immense love and dedication they have for their son/nephew and each other. I don’t believe there is any scenario where Bryce would have voluntarily walked away from his family only to never contact them again. I pray for them often.

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