A San Diego native tearfully reunited with his brother's family Saturday, almost 10 years after he was reported missing in Yuma, Arizona.
Thomas “Randy” Gatewood, 79, went missing from his Yuma home in 2007. The Air Force Veteran had been diagnosed with dementia.
"It's almost unbelievable," said Randy's brother, Gene. "I hate to say it, but I thought he was probably deceased. That's the story I've been telling family and friends for some time."
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Investigators found Randy in the skilled nursing facility Bella Vista Health Center in Lemon Grove, where Gene and his family met Randy in a tearful reunion.
"When I came here a couple of weeks ago I didn’t know what to expect, whether you were going to recognize me," Gene told his brother at the reunion. "I told the kids, I asked if you knew, and you said yes, you’re my little brother Gene Gatewood. And we both broke down a little bit."
The break came during the region’s first Identify the Missing Day in March. Gene's daughter read about the event and the family went. They updated their missing person's report and the San Diego County Coroner did a swab test for DNA and checked against a national DNA database.
"I didn't expect that to pay off, but I thought it was wonderful they were willing to go through that trouble and expense," Gene said.
The Gatewood family paired up with a National City Police Department officer, who looked into the case. The officer made calls as the family sat with him and checked records.
The checks came back with a slice of information: Randy had been admitted to Paradise Valley Hospital in National City on September 1, 2011, for domestic abuse. At first, the family thought Randy had been beaten up.
They learned Randy and another elderly gentleman had been abandoned by their caregiver in a motel for two days with no money and no food, Gene said.
He was admitted to the hospital for inflammation/infection of bone marrow from an injury. He also underwent a quadruple heart bypass before 2007.
Officials brought up two addresses associated with Randy: a place in La Mesa, which told them Randy had never lived there, and the Lemon Grove address.
When Gene called over, he didn't expect to get the news that would change his life. But officials said he lived there.
"I was absolutely flabbergasted," Gene said. "My God, he's alive and well and being cared for. [It was the] opposite of what I thought."
The first time Gene reunited with his brother in April with one of his daughters, Kari, they weren't sure it was him. But when his brother smiled, he instantly knew.
"I walked over to him and said, slowly, Randy, do you know who I am?" Gene recalled. "He said, 'yes, you're my lil' brother Gene,' and he grabs my hand."
Gene still has a lot of questions for his brother and is still trying to piece together how he went missing in the first place.
But as he figures out that puzzle, one piece at a time, he'll also be getting to know his brother again.
"My plan is to take him on outings," Gene said. "Go see our school, go see the house we lived in as kids, go to the beach and see ocean and water, because he' been in the desert for many years and here for the past five."
San Diego County has more than 3,100 missing persons cases dating back to the 1950s, according to the County. Since January, close to 1,000 people have been reported missing in the City of San Diego, according to the San Diego Police Department.