Jersey Village family relieved by elderly parents' safe return
For Rico Garcia, Sunday should have been a day of celebration. His nephew had just graduated from a Katy-area high school. He was in the backyard of his Jersey Village home barbecuing for family, awaiting his in-laws, who were expected to arrive bearing gifts.
"We were having a birthday party up at my house," Garcia said, "and they had mentioned they might stop and get a cake, so when they were delayed a little bit we did not think it was unusual."
As the minutes ticked by and one hour turned into three, however, Garcia, a retired homicide detective with the Harris County Sheriff's Office, knew something was wrong.
"No one really knows how they are going to react in a situation like that with a loved one being gone — much less two," he said. "Having worked on homicide, knowing that time was not on our side, it began to look very grim.
Found in Pensacola
Finally, about 9:30 p.m. Monday — 30 hours after reporting them missing — the family got good news: Soloman Gazca, 78, and his wife Lorenza Gazca, 73, were found, frazzled, but unharmed at an agricultural inspection station along a highway in Pensacola, Fla.
What should have been a 20- to 25-minute commute had ended more than 500 miles away.
They had pulled into the inspection station's parking lot to get some rest after driving almost nonstop.
"They circled around the parking lot as if they did not know what they were doing, so an officer went to check on them," said Ben Burns, a captain with the Florida Department of Agricultural Law Enforcement. "After speaking with them, he discovered they had no idea they were in Florida."
Police escorted the Gazcas to a hotel to rest while their daughter, Beatrice Flores, of Houston, flew into town to retrieve them Tuesday.
"When we went 30 hours without hearing from them, we were all really letting fear set in," said Flores, the youngest of the Gazcas' seven children. "Luckily, they are safe and sound."
Tim Miller, director and founder of the Texas Equusearch, which aided the Gazca family in their search, said Soloman Gazca, who was driving the vehicle, displays the characteristics that often plague missing individuals who become the focus of the group's volunteer searches.
"I'm not sure whether Soloman was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer's, but the doctor said he had early symptoms," Miller said. "The disease is hard to detect and it can hit with no warning. They got enough sense to know to get gas when the gauge is low, but they don't have enough sense to know where they are at. There's no rhyme or reason."
Miller said the Gazcas were hard to track because Lorenza Gazca left her cellphone at home. The couple also had more than $400 on them at the time they went missing, so there were no credit card transactions to follow, he said.
Flores said she thinks Alzheimer's disease was not the only thing that led her parents to wander so far off course.
"He has bad vision and doesn't normally drive in the dark," she said. "Basically, I think he's a man, and he has that machismo thing, where they don't want to ask for directions. My mom tried to tell him to stop and ask, but he thought he could find it on his own."
Considering their care
Happy to have them home, Flores and Garcia said they intend to make changes in their parents' care.
"You know, this was a wake-up call," Garcia said. "Just noticing the past several months, he has become a little more forgetful. We kind of rely on my mother in law to be his co-pilot and give him a sense of direction. It's a real hard decision to take away his keys because that's his source of independence.
"My mother-in-law and he take great pride in the fact that they are able to get around on their own. But the family will discuss this."
An average of three to four families a month enlist Texas Equusearch to find elderly family members, Miller said. Elderly missing due to forms of dementia make up half of all missing persons reports the organization takes on, he said.
"The recovery rate on them really and truly is high," he said, "but, then again, there is some that have never ever been found."
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