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Police ask homeowners to search properties in case of missing woman

Search in Gomez case includes abandoned structures, fields, ponds


A missing person flyer for Sara Gomez. (Ryan Brennecke/The Bulletin)
Bryan Penner (Deschutes County Sheriff's Office/Submitted photo)

The search for a Bend woman reported missing 10 days ago intensified Thursday when Bend Police asked east-side residents to check abandoned structures, open fields and ponds and other water sources on their properties in the hope of locating Sara Gomez.

Police Lt. Clint Burleigh clarified the department is not looking for a body. Police have asked residents to check “for tire tracks, shoe prints or anything out of the ordinary.”

Bend Police issued the request in a release to media shortly after 1 p.m., about the same time a man connected with Gomez’s disappearance — Bryan Michael Penner —

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The search for a Bend woman reported missing 10 days ago intensified Thursday when Bend Police asked east-side residents to check abandoned structures, open fields and ponds and other water sources on their properties in the hope of locating Sara Gomez.

Police Lt. Clint Burleigh clarified the department is not looking for a body. Police have asked residents to check “for tire tracks, shoe prints or anything out of the ordinary.”

Bend Police issued the request in a release to media shortly after 1 p.m., about the same time a man connected with Gomez’s disappearance — Bryan Michael Penner — made his first court appearance since being arrested Feb. 21. Penner, whom police describe as Gomez’s former boyfriend, was arrested two days after Gomez was first reported missing.

Penner, 31, appeared by video to set a hearing date to determine trial readiness for two charges of contempt of court. He’s alleged to have violated a restraining order Gomez took out against him. He denied the charges Thursday through his lawyer, Matthew Baughman.

Gomez was reported missing after not returning home from work.

Penner has not been charged with kidnapping or other violent crimes related to the disappearance, though District Attorney John Hummel has said his office is “confident” Penner played a role.

“Based on a search of his apartment, we believe he was involved,” Hummel said. “We’re now awaiting results from the (Oregon State Police) crime lab.”

Relatives, friends and co-workers of Gomez packed the benches of Judge A. Michael Adler’s courtroom for Thursday’s short hearing. Many wore shirts reading “Stay Strong for Sara” and ribbons of her favorite color: purple. Some broke down in tears or mouthed profane insults when Penner appeared on the courtroom’s video monitor.

Penner’s parents were also among the crowd. Gomez’s stepfather, Michael Kuhn, said he mouthed the words “I’m sorry” to them.

“They’ve also lost a child,” he explained outside the courtroom.

Gomez’s mother, Dena Kuhn, who is married to Michael Kuhn, said her daughter is a “beautiful girl” who worked hard to get where she was in life.

“I want to know if she is alive and on this earth anymore,” Dena Kuhn said. “I have hope, but it seems like it’s running out.”

Elizabeth Fennell, Gomez’s sister, said her family has received little information from police on their search.

“It’s all still pretty vague,” she said outside the courtroom.

Fennell said the family is asking for “outdoorsy” people to aid them in searches this weekend. They plan to focus their efforts within a 3-mile radius of Penner’s former apartment at Sienna Pointe, near the junction of NE Lotus Drive and NE Purcell Boulevard.

— Reporter: 541-383-0325, gandrews@bendbulletin.com