A Pennsylvania “street preacher” who mysteriously disappeared more than three decades ago was found alive in a nursing home in Puerto Rico, authorities and her family said Friday.
“I don’t believe it. It was a total shock,” Patricia Kopta’s sister, Gloria Smith, told ABC 7. “We really thought she was dead all those years.”
Kopta vanished suddenly from the streets of Pittsburgh in 1992 at age 52 — stumping her husband, siblings and law enforcement, which eventually declared her dead.
She eventually checked into an adult care center in 1999, at first telling workers she’d come to Puerto Rico on a cruise ship from Europe, Ross Township Deputy Police Chief Brian Kohlhepp told CBS Pittsburgh.
But as she began to suffer from dementia, she let some details of her life slip to a social worker, who got in touch with an Interpol officer.
That officer contacted Kohlhepp and the missing gal’s identity was later confirmed through a DNA sample. After months, police notified her husband, Bob, that his long lost wife had been found nearly 2,000 miles away.
“I come home one night and she’s just gone and nobody knows where she’s at,” Bob said during a police press conference Thursday.
“It’s been going on almost 31 years and it’s been bad. It cost me a lot of money. I even put advertisements down in the paper in Puerto Rico looking for her.”
He said Smith, who is now 83, had struggled with mental health problems when she disappeared — and had often talked about going to Puerto Rico where it was warm.
He said she was local street preacher nicknamed Patty and known as “The Sparrow,” who often hung around the city outside.
The past 31 years have been heartbreaking for her family, Smith said.
“It was hard on all of us because my mother, her [other] sister and myself worried about her constantly,” she said.
But she said she hopes to pay her aging sis a visit down south.
“We’re so happy and I hope I can get down to see her,” she said.