Bloody ropes, blood puddles and smears of blood were found by officers investigating the disappearance of Sara Gomez when they searched the apartment of her troubled ex-boyfriend, Bend Police confirmed Friday.
“We don’t know if it’s her blood,” said Chief Jim Porter. “We’re still waiting to hear back from the crime lab on that.”
Porter said he doesn’t know when that will be, though Oregon State Police, which operates the state crime lab, gives priority to homicide cases.
The apartment was the home of Bryan Penner, 31, who was in custody in connection with Gomez’s disappearance last month when he hung himself in a jail shower. His suicide had a demoralizing effect on the wide-ranging search that began when Gomez was reported missing Feb. 20 after not returning home from work for several days.
Porter also confirmed that information from Penner’s cellphone places Penner heading east out of town the night of his arrest, before the signal was lost.
The next time his phone was located, he was near the same spot several hours later, heading west, into town.
What happened in that time period has consumed Patrick Garrett, who’s engaged to marry Gomez’s sister, Elizabeth Fennell.
Garrett accompanied a handful of relatives who viewed the ropes and other evidence from Penner’s apartment gathered by police.
“It was pretty hard for us,” Garrett said. “I didn’t want Elizabeth to go.”
For Garrett, 29, the past six weeks have felt like a year.
A month and a half ago, he divided his time between being a commercial fisherman in Alaska and being a fly-fishing guide in Deschutes County.
He and Fennell live at a friend’s house outside Alfalfa, and his life revolves around Searching for Sara, the volunteer effort to locate Gomez.
The Alfalfa headquarters for the search is a fenced piece of land off a ranch with a port-a-potty and ample parking.
From inside a canvas wall tent, Garrett spends his days coordinating teams of volunteers — many of them with law enforcement or military backgrounds — as they search the area outside Alfalfa.
He drinks Rockstar to keep from falling asleep. Around the tent are tables covered with maps, GPS devices, energy chews and Gatorade.
Most of this has been donated. Most of the searchers are motivated because they knew Sara personally.
Garrett’s in the middle of what he calls “crunch time,” and thinks it will only last another two weeks.
Friday, a half-dozen of Garrett’s “hasty searchers,” were marking off areas to be searched by the larger volunteer search parties on Saturday and Sunday.
They’re marking roads and trails, anywhere they think Penner could have gone to dump Gomez’s body.
So far, support from the community has been huge.
Crowds of up to 50 people have gathered at the Alfalfa camp on weekends.
Activity at the site has been more or less constant since the search began.
Garrett has agreed with a neighboring property owner to buy around $3,500 of gravel to repair the road once the search is over.
The Alfalfa camp is where it is for a reason.
Garrett thinks Penner was somewhere near there.
“Detectives are telling us, a couple hours east of Bend,” Garrett said.
“We’re searching further east because they told us to. And I’ve told them from day one, if we are getting in the way or contaminating your search, I will rip everybody out in a heartbeat.
“But what I think it boils down to is, they don’t have a clue where she is.”
With a massive amount of land to cover, searchers have chosen to focus on roadways.
Ninety-nine percent of killers don’t venture more than 100 yards from a road to leave a body, Garrett said.
Rather than more untrained searchers on foot, organizers are asking for registered body recovery dogs and experienced horses, ATVs and drones.
They want certified divers, with either law enforcement or search and rescue experience.
“This is not a recreational diver kind of thing,” Garrett said.
But recently, there’s been a noticeable drop in interest in the search.
“That’s just kind of what happens in these cases,” Garrett said. “Especially when the No. 1 suspect is dead.”
They’re hoping someone else finds her, as it gets warmer and more people are recreating. Deer and elk hunting seasons start in August.
The search isn’t spending much of the money donated by community members.
Those funds are intended for a celebration of life service for Gomez, tentatively planned to take place within the next three weeks.
Garrett knows he can’t look forever. To make crab season in Alaska, Garrett will have to leave Oregon no later than early June.
“You’d never guess one thing like this would have such an impact,” he said.
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org