Woman who disappeared 31 years ago found alive at Puerto Rico nursing home — a look at what happened
A Pennsylvania woman who went missing more than 30 years ago and was declared legally dead during the ’90s, has been found living at a nursing home in Puerto Rico — solving a decades-old mystery, per The New York Times.
Patricia Kopta, now 83, disappeared from her life which included a husband and siblings in 1992. She wandered through northern Puerto Rico for awhile before getting taken in by an adult care home in 1999 as a person “in need,” per ABC News.
When Kopta was first taken in by the adult care home, she refused to share personal details about her past. Years later, as her dementia progressed, Kopta began disclosing information about her past, according to staff, per People. On one occasion, she admitted that she came to Puerto Rico on a European cruise ship.
Last year, a staff worker at the nursing home had enough information to alert authorities in Pennsylvania. A DNA test confirmed Kopta’s identity.
News of Kopta’s life in Puerto Rico was shared with her husband, Bob Kopta, and her younger sister, Gloria Smith. She was married to Bob Kopta for 20 years before she went missing at 52 years old. Both her husband and sister expressed their disbelief at a news conference held on Friday.
“Thirty-one years,” Bob Kopta said, “and it’s been bad,” per The New York Times.
“She could have come home any time,” he said. “But she — that’s what she wanted. She always said she wanted to go to a warm climate.”
NOW: Ross Township Police announce they have located Patricia Kopta, a woman who went missing from the area in 1992. She was found in a care home in Puerto Rico. Her husband and sister are here for a news conference today. pic.twitter.com/q3l3uA1grm
— Shelby Cassesse (@ShelbyCassesse) March 2, 2023
A closer look at Patricia Kopta’s disappearance
Patricia Kopta was missing for 31 years. It’s a mystery that shook her family and the Pennsylvania town she left. After roughly seven years of looking for Kopta, her husband had her declared legally dead. Here is a closer look at what happened before and after her mysterious disappearance.
Life before Kopta’s disappearance: Kopta’s family claimed she was a good student who worked as a model and dance instructor, per ABC News. After graduating high school, Kopta got a job in finance at a Pittsburgh plate glass company and would attend ballroom dancing events weekly.
According to Smith, Kopta’s sister, Kopta often took vacations with her friends to Puerto Rico before she got married.
“She just loved the ocean, the beach, the warm sunshine,” said Smith, per ABC News.
Her husband said they lived a typical life during the early years of their marriage, per People. She enjoyed ballroom dance and was a devout Roman Catholic. They never had children.
After working her Pittsburgh finance job for 10 years, Kopta quit due to stress migraines. She then got a job as an elevator operator at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
This is when Kopta’s family noticed a change.
Kopta as “The Sparrow”: Over time, Kopta’s passion for religion grew extreme. She would often go on rants and made claims that the mother of God had warned her of nuclear Armageddon and spoke about seeing an angel, said Bob Kopta, per People.
After Kopta lost her job, she began spending time on busy streets and parking lots preaching the end of the world. She became a familiar figure in her town and earned the nickname “The Sparrow.”
Before her disappearance, Kopta was briefly institutionalized after doctors diagnosed her with “delusions of grandeur” and said she had signs of schizophrenia. She went back to preaching after her release and disappeared shortly after.
Patricia Kopta goes missing: Kopta disappeared in 1992.
“It’s sad. I went through a lot, believe me. Every time they’d find a body somewhere, (I wondered) ‘Is it Patricia? Is it Patricia?’” Bob Kopta said, per Pennsylvania news site TribLIVE. “I come home one night, and she’s gone, and nobody knew where she was at. I don’t understand. I didn’t throw her out. She just walked away. Didn’t say goodbye or nothing.”
Patricia Kopta’s family never heard from her after her disappearance.
The search for Patricia: Kopta’s disappearance equally puzzled authorities and her family. Years went by without a sign from her. Police even consulted a psychic for help.
Bob Kopta recalled his wife mentioning interest in Puerto Rico once, so he published ads in Puerto Rican newspapers, but never got a response, per CBS News.
Patricia declared legally dead: Seven years after her disappearance, Bob Kopta obtained a death declaration — Patricia Kopta was declared legally dead, per CBS News.
Found in Puerto Rico in 1999: Kopta was found wandering in the towns of Naranjito, Corozal and Toa Alta in the northern part of Puerto Rico. She was taken in by an adult care home as a person “in need.”
Patricia begins sharing details from her life: Last year, likely due to dementia, Kopta began revealing details about her life. It’s unclear what she told the staff at the adult home, but it was enough for them to piece together the decades-old mystery. Authorities back home were contacted.
DNA test confirms Patricia Kopta’s identity: This year, a DNA test confirmed Kopta to be the woman who disappeared from Pennsylvania 31 years ago. She has not been reunited with her family.
“Whether she knows me or not, I still want to see her and give her a hug and tell her I love her,” Smith said, per CBS News. “I thought maybe she had died.”