Missing 31-year-old woman found in Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO (AP) — A Pennsylvania woman who went missing more than 30 years ago has been found living in a Puerto Rican nursing home.

Patricia Copta left her husband and brother behind and wandered northern Puerto Rico for some time before being admitted to adult care in 1999 as a person in need, according to details released at a press conference this week in Los Township. taken to the facility. where she used to live.

Once known as a street preacher in her hometown, Copta initially kept her past a secret while in Puerto Rico. Chief of Police, Brian Kohlhep, said.

By last year, social workers at home had enough information to alert authorities about the woman, now 83. Her DNA test confirmed her identity, Kohlhepp said.

Her husband, Bob Copta, and her surviving sister, 78-year-old Gloria Smith. We filled in the details of Kopta’s life in her Friday press conference and a phone interview with the Associated Press.

Patricia Copta was nicknamed “The Sparrow” because of her petite build. She was frequenting parking lots and busy roads in a largely populated community of about 31,000 people north of Pittsburgh, alerting passers-by and motorists about the end of the world.

But before she started preaching, Kopta was a high-achieving student who became a model and dance instructor. After graduating from high school, she took a job in finance at a flat glass company in Pittsburgh, and according to her family, she attended weekly ballroom dancing events.

Before she got married, Smith recalls, she often vacationed with friends in Puerto Rico.

“She loved the ocean, the beach and the warm sunshine,” Smith told the Associated Press.

Smith said her sister quit the glass company she worked for 10 years because of migraines. After that, she got a job as an elevator operator at the Pittsburgh Museum of Art.

That’s when the family noticed a change in her.

“She said something about seeing an angel there,” Smith recalls.

Shortly thereafter, Copta began preaching and was temporarily institutionalized after doctors diagnosed her as “paranoid” and said she had signs of schizophrenia. He continued to preach until he disappeared in 1992.

“I came home one night and she was gone,” Bob Copta told AP.

They were married for 20 years.

Kopta, now 86, remembered meeting him near the river in Pittsburgh. He took her and her friends on board and fell in love. In 1972 they got married.

The disappearance puzzled authorities and families alike. Police even went so far as to consult a psychic, but Kopta recalled his wife saying she wanted to go to Puerto Rico because the weather was nice. So he placed an ad in a Puerto Rican newspaper, but received no response.

Years passed without any sign of her. About seven years after her disappearance, he was pronounced dead.

“I’ve been through a lot,” said Bob Copta, a retired truck driver. “Every time they found a body somewhere (I wondered), ‘Patricia? Patricia?’

Patricia Copta, meanwhile, appears to have wandered through the northern towns of Naranjit, Corozal, and Toa Alta, just southwest of the capital, San Juan. Kohlhepp said that when she was brought to her home for the first time as an adult, she hinted that she had arrived in Puerto Rico on a cruise ship from Europe.

After social workers contacted Pennsylvania police, it took almost a year before a DNA sample confirmed that the woman was indeed Patricia Copta.

“It’s sad, but it’s a relief,” her husband said. “If your wife goes missing, you are a suspect.”

Bob Copta, who didn’t remarry, has no plans to visit and is now trying to forget the past, but he’s happy to know she’s being taken care of.

Smith, on the other hand, wants to go to the island to see his sister. She couldn’t talk to her brother on the phone, she says, because her dementia makes her unable to hold a conversation. Patricia Copta’s twin sister died without knowing her twins were still alive.

“Whether she knows me or not, I still want to meet her and hug her and tell her I love her,” Smith said. “I thought maybe she was dead.”

___ AP Researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed from New York.