(Update: Autopsy confirms body is Gomez; DA says Penner killed her because ‘if he could not have her, no one would’)
The Oregon State Medical Examiner has determined the body found wrapped in a tarp Friday about 20 miles southeast of Bend was that of Sara Gomez, the 24-year-old Bend woman who vanished three months ago, Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel said Wednesday,
“The cause of death and manner of death are still under investigation by the medical examiner,” Hummel said in a brief news release, one day after an autopsy was conducted near Portland.
Hummel also issued the following statement about the circumstances surrounding her killing:
“Sara Gomez was a strong, smart, and beloved member of our community. In the final months of her life, she found peace, as she had finally broken free of the abusive relationship she was in with Bryan Penner .
“Unfortunately, Penner did not accept this. Penner killed Sara because if he could not have her, no one would.
“After killing Sara in his apartment, he bound her body and transported her to (a location) off of Highway 20 approximately 20 miles east of Bend.
“Thank you to our local law enforcement officers who worked tirelessly in an effort to find Sara alive, and then to hold Penner accountable, and then to search for her body.
“Sara is now home with her family. We wish them well as they continue to grieve her passing.”
NewsChannel 21’s Pedro Quintana will have more on the latest developments and the grieving family’s reaction on NewsChannel 21 Fox at 4 and KTVZ at 5/6.
A hiker in the Horse Ridge area last Friday found a wrapped-up body that is now confirmed to Gomez, whose disappearance prompted extensive, widespread searches over a wide area east of Bend and the arrest of her ex-boyfriend, who later apparently committed suicide in jail.
Hummel said Tuesday evidence at the scene indicates the remains had been there for months, with no evidence it recently was moved there.
Hummel had said a few weeks ago he was still looking into whether anyone else was involved in the killing or possibly moving of the body. But Sheriff Shane Nelson told NewsChannel 21 after the body was found that he had checked with Bend Police Chief Jim Porter and that “at this time, there is no evidence a second suspect was involved with her murder.”
Shortly before 8 a.m. Saturday, Deschutes County 911 dispatchers received a call from a hiker who reported finding what he believed was a human body wrapped up in a black tarp Friday afternoon, a few feet off Fort Rock Road, south of U.S. Highway 20 and about 21 miles southeast of Bend.
A sheriff’s sergeant responded to the area and confirmed the tarp held human remains, Lt. Chad Davis said.
Sheriff’s and Bend police detectives responded and began a joint investigation with assistance from the county and state medical examiner’s offices, Oregon State Police forensic laboratory and the Deschutes County District Attorney’s Office, Davis said.
They were on the scene much of the day, processing the taped-off area for evidence. A drone piloted by a Sheriff’s Search and Rescue volunteer also was used to document the scene.
“Based on the investigation, it is believed the remains are likely that of Sara Gomez,” Davis said in a statement, “but investigators are awaiting confirmation of the deceased’s identity from the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office, which may take several weeks.”
Gomez was reported missing Feb. 20 after failing to return home from work at the Bend North Albertsons. Family, friends and officials have conducted numerous extensive searches since then, mostly in the Alfalfa area east of Bend.
Sheriff Shane Nelson said in a statement, “Bend Police Chief Jim Porter, D.A. John Hummel and I believe that this is the body of Sara Gomez, but it will take the conclusion of the Medical Examiner’s investigation to confirm the identity of the human remains.
“Our thoughts and prayers have been with Ms. Gomez’s family since her disappearance and if the remains are determined to be her, our hope is it will bring her family some closure,” Nelson added.
Nelson told NewsChannel 21, “This was part of the area that was searched during the investigation, and there were a lot of other locations — pull-outs, side roads, that a number of investigators searched during the course of the investigation. This road was checked.
“However, when you take a look at the enormous size of the area we are searching for a relatively small crime scene, that can be difficult and hard to find,” the sheriff said.
Gomez’s ex-boyfriend, Bryan Penner, 31, was arrested two days after her disappearance in a raid on his northeast Bend apartment, accused of violating a restraining order by contacting Gomez.
Police said a search of his apartment turned up evidence tied to her disappearance, and District Attorney John Hummel said prosecutors believed then that Penner was the only person involved in her death.
Penner took his own life in the showers at the Deschutes County Jail in mid-March.