The San Diego Union-Tribune
A mysterious death, a missing woman and many unanswered questions are at the heart of an investigation into a 52-year-old man found dead last month in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
Officials from the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department have confirmed that the body of John Fitzpatrick had been found in the state park in September. However, investigators in both San Diego and San Bernardino counties remained tight-lipped as of Tuesday about the timeline and details surrounding the man’s death.
Fitzpatrick, a former Navy SEAL and San Bernardino resident, was reported missing to San Bernardino officials on July 30, according to the man’s longtime friend, Darryl Hoss. The two had served together in the military, he said.
Hoss said he reported his friend missing when Fitzpatrick didn’t return from an extended camping trip to the desert state park. He said he usually wouldn’t be worried because his friend was well trained to survive in rough terrain.
According to military records reviewed by the Union-Tribune, Fitzpatrick was honorably discharged from active service in 2010 as a chief petty officer, master parachutist and instructor who had completed multiple tours overseas.
Reportedly along with Fitzpatrick on the trip was a 47-year-old Chinese national named Jin Fang, investigators said. Hoss said Fitzpatrick and Fang had met online earlier in the year and formed a romantic relationship via Facebook messages.
The trip, Hoss said, was the first time he or his friend had met her in person. She had flown into Los Angeles from China on July 14, San Bernardino County sheriff’s officials said in a message posted on the department’s social media page.
The same day she landed, Fang took a train from L.A. to the Palm Springs area, sheriff’s officials said in a statement. She was last seen being picked up at the train station by a vehicle driven by Fitzpatrick, investigators said.
The plan was for Fitzpatrick to show Fang around the Morongo Basin before the two headed into the state park to camp in an unknown location, according to investigators. Hoss says he met her before the two took off.
Fang was last heard from on July 22 after she spoke with her friend over the phone. Four days later, deputies began investigating her disappearance and published her photo and information on the Morongo Basin substation’s social media on Aug. 1.
Fitzpatrick’s own missing person bulletin was posted online more than a week later, on Aug. 9. Investigators provided a description of Fitzpatrick’s vehicle — a blue Toyota Tacoma.
More than two months after his friend’s disappearance, Hoss said investigators called Fitzpatrick’s family last week to inform them that his body had been found in Harper Canyon, south of state Route 78. Fitzpatrick’s truck was parked nearby, Hoss recalled the investigators saying, but few other details were given to them.
A spokesperson for the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office said Monday that the case surrounding Fitzpatrick’s death was under seal, and authorities could not comment on the ongoing investigation. Officials from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department deferred questions to their San Bernardino counterpart.
According to a spokesperson for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, investigators had not reported finding Fang as of Friday afternoon.
Hoss said that while he and the family look for answers surrounding Fitzpatrick’s death, he would remember the man as a brave soldier and loyal friend who had a “zeal for life.”
“He really had his stuff together … he knew how to run things,” said Hoss on a phone call Friday, remembering their time together in the military. “I followed his lead.”
This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.