BEND, OR -- The criminal case against Bryan Michael Penner is now closed; he died of an apparent suicide Monday morning. Penner was the only suspect in the disappearance of 24-year-old Sara Gomez, of Bend. "The criminal investigation, we won't be continuing; that's obviously not possible with Penner's death," says Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel, "Soc we don't continue that angle, but we do continue trying to find Sara's body. We have to bring Sara home."
Gomez was reported missing February 20 after she hadn't been seen for several days. Penner was arrested February 22 on suspicion of violating a restraining order she had against him. Hummel says most violence against women is committed by a current or former husband or boyfriend, and he believes that's what happened to Gomez, "It's something inside certain men who are unable to accept a woman's right to decide whether she's going to be in a relationship with that man. The woman ends the relationship, the man cannot accept that, and his anger gets the point where he commits violence; and that was the case with Penner."
Hummel says the only thing investigators were missing in their case against Penner was a confession. In the initial search of his apartment, shortly after his arrest, they found evidence indicating a struggle, and officers uncovered blood, as well as Gomez's clothing and her cell phone. "Penner never admitted to killing Sara, but he did tell lots of stories and so much of what he said was proven to be untrue," Hummel tells KBND News, "And that definitely was a sign of guilt, to me." He adds, "Penner left some writings behind. We hoped that he might decide to tell us where Sara's body was in his final letter, but he did not do that. He did not leave behind any information in his cell and in his writings that would lead us to Sara."
Family and friends of Gomez continue their efforts to find her, despite Penner’s death. Her sister, Liz Fennel, says she’s devastated with the news, "Frustrated. Sad. But, I’m not going to let this bring us all down. Because, like I’ve said before, we all need to stand strong for her," she told Central Oregon Daily, Monday. "That’s what she wants us to do right now, is everyone to unite and be strong together." Fennel worried for years Penner would hurt her sister and says her worst nightmare has now come true. Patrick Garrett is Fennel's fiancé and says they’re not giving up, "We wanted as much information as we could get; we don’t get a lot of information. And, to lose Bryan Penner, we felt we lost a lot - and a lot of faith when it came to finding Sara. We’re not going to stop looking for her; we’re not going to let this knock us down." He wants more “boots on the ground” searching for Gomez, and he hopes the family will soon get closure.