The bodies of a San Diego couple whose mysterious disappearance five days before Christmas drove fear into the hearts of their adult children have been found near the Mexican border in an apparent murder-suicide.
Johnny and Melissa Soto, aged 52 and 45, disappeared from their San Diego house on the evening of Wednesday, December 20, their kids told local news outlets.
On Tuesday, US Customs and Border Patrol found a car parked in the parking lot of the Golden Acorn Casino in Campo, California, the New York Post reports.
Inside were the bodies of a man who had suffered a “self-inflicted wound” to the head and a woman who died of “undetermined injuries”, San Diego Police said in a press release on Wednesday.
As the apparent murder-suicide investigation continued, the two dead bodies were confirmed to be the Sotos by NBC 7 San Diego.
The tragic finding came after their children were stunned by their parents’ vanishing act, and worried that something awful had happened to the couple – whose marriage was reportedly on the rocks.
“It felt like a normal night,” Vincent, the youngest son, told NBC 7 San Diego of the night they vanished, December 20. “[Johnny] was just sitting here watching TV, like he always does.”
“And my parents, they always talk. He asked me, ‘Hey, Vinny, can you leave for a minute? We’re going to talk’,” he continued.
“So I left the house, not assuming anything.”
About two hours later, Vinny’s dad texted him that it was clear to come back because they’d left the house.
That was the last time anyone saw them, the news station said.
Hours passed, and the couple – who reportedly separated in July after 20 years of marriage – never returned.
“We all had high hopes that they would at least come back for Christmas,” Alexia Soto, 23, the couple’s oldest daughter, told the outlet.
The kids called the cops, and also reached out to their aunt, Christina Sandoval.
Ms Sandoval told the network that the parents had “left with nothing”.
“They left with no clothes … All his clothes that he wears normally, like the sweats there in the bedroom,” she said.
“Her phone was left here. Her wallet was left here. Her keys were left here, and then his phone was turned off about 15 to 20 minutes after he left.”
A neighbour’s ring doorbell camera captured their last moments at the house.
At about 8:50pm, Melissa’s car pulled into the driveway and someone got out, according to neighbour Raymond Arzola.
“You could tell it’s more likely a man because of the jeans and the blue jacket,” he told NBC.
“I usually see Johnny wear a blue jacket.”
About an hour-and-a-half later, her car pulled out of the driveway, then parked in reverse.
Another neighbour’s surveillance video showed the garage door and car trunk open shortly after. Johnny went back and forth to the car at about 10:30pm, before driving off.
The disappearance was definitely out of the ordinary for a couple who still got along, despite their marital problems, family members said.
“Even though they were separated, there were, like, no issues between them at all,” Alexia told ABC 10.
“They were still in contact. They still talked. She would come over [to Johnny’s house] and talk.”
The vanished couple’s family has remained frozen in time since their disappearance, the NBC station said.
The family’s presents were still under the Christmas tree – the siblings said opening them would be too painful.
Ms Sandoval has started an online fundraiser to pay for their puppy, buy groceries and cover any bills that might arise, the outlet said.
Melissa’s mother had shared an eerily prescient premonition to the local station.
“I feel like she’s asking for help,” Concepcion Romero Domingo told NBC.
“You know when you wake up and your heart is so sad because she’s asking for help. And I’m telling her, ‘Just hold on. They’re going to find you because they want to find you.’”
San Diego Police did not immediately respond to a Post inquiry.
This article originally appeared on the New York Post and was reproduced with permission