Murdered McStay family experiencing heaven’s joys, family and friends believe


By Mark Ellis

People cover
People cover

Mystery still surrounds the death of the McStay family, who disappeared in early 2010 from an idyllic northern San Diego community best known for its avocado groves and family-friendly lifestyle. But one thing is not in doubt to family members and close friends – their strong Christian faith and eternal destination.

On November 11th, a motorcyclist found the shallow graves of Joseph “Joey” McStay, his wife Summer, and their two children, 4-year-old son Gianni and 3-year-old son Joe Jr., in Victorville, 105 miles north of their home in Fallbrook. Their abandoned Isuzu Trooper was found near the U.S.-Mexico border shortly after their disappearance.

Joey and his brother Mike grew up in Santo, Texas, a wide spot on a dusty highway with a population of only 315 today. “We attended a little Baptist church but my mom never forced Christianity on us,” Mike recalls. “She wanted us to make our own decision.”

In Joey’s case it was less a ‘decision’ and more of a power-encounter with God that led him to salvation at age 22. “He was dating a girl he really liked, but she broke it up because she wanted to get right with the Lord,” Mike recounts.

Somewhat distraught, Joseph went to meet with an elder in his church, Steve Wilson, about the breakup.  As Joey bared his heart with Wilson and the two closed their eyes to pray together, something surprising happened.

“He felt a warmth come on him like a presence and the room filled with light,” Mike says. “His eyes were closed but it was bright white and he was crying. God’s Spirit fell on him like a blanket of Daddy’s love — He felt the Father’s touch.”

Mike (left) with Joey
Mike (left) with Joey

Joey rushed home to share the experience with his younger brother. As the two drifted off to sleep that night in their loft, Joey excitedly told Mike, “God is real! You can know Him! All you have to do is receive Him.”

Not long after this, Mike surrendered his life to Christ as well. “Joey was a believer through and through,” Mike says. “I know when I breathe my last I will awaken in Paradise and I’ll see my brother and sister and those little guys, and there will be no more pain.”

Gerrit Macey worked with Joey at Cannon’s Restaurant in Dana Point Harbor in the early 1990s. “Joey witnessed to me for a year and a half and I would just laugh at him,” Macey recalls. Macey was the dining room manager at the time and led a fast lifestyle.

“Joey wanted to read his Bible in the service bar and I yelled at him for that,” he says. “I used to party a lot, and one day Joey came to me and said, ‘Enough is enough. I’m going to take you to church tomorrow morning.’”

“If you can wake me up,” Macey replied. “I don’t wake up too early on Sundays,” he said.

The next morning Joey’s prayers were answered. Macey not only got out of bed and made it to church, he also received Christ.

“I didn’t even hear the altar call. I just got up and moved forward. I turned around and I saw Joey crying and Mikey jumping up and down with excitement.”

Teresa Baiz also worked with Joey at Cannons. She credits Joey with her rededication to Christ. “I backslid in high school and I was in a bad relationship,” she recalls.

One night they closed the restaurant together. Joey turned to her and said, “Do you mind if I read something to you?

He opened a Bible and read the story of the Prodigal Son. “God wants you back,” he told Baiz.

Then he read Psalm 139 to Baiz, which happened to be her favorite psalm. When she went to church the next Sunday with Joey, she went forward and rededicated her life to Jesus. “My life was never the same,” she recounts. “He is a huge part of my testimony. All he wanted to do was bring people to the Lord.”

“I know when he opened his eyes he was looking at Jesus and there will be many people in heaven because of

Letter to Teresa from Joey, encouraging her in her faith
Letter to Teresa from Joey, encouraging her in her faith

him,” she adds.

Joey attended Dana Point Lighthouse, then Church by the Sea in Laguna, and later, Vineyard Community Church (VCC) in Laguna Niguel, where his brother Mike helps with worship.

One of the former pastors at VCC, recalls Joey. “I knew him as a great young man who loved the Lord,” says Jay Grant. “Joey and his second wife were believers. His faith was always solid.”

As the mystery of the killings deepens, and theories are tossed around, Mike tries not to dwell on the case.  “I don’t even try to wrap my head around it,” he admits. “I expect the sheriff’s department will call when they get them.”

“When everything is caving in around you, you have to trust God,” he says. “That’s when you find out what your faith is based on. It’s either built on the Rock or it’s built on the sand.”

“This kind of tragedy is the catalyst that solidifies your faith.”

MIke visits site in Victorville where bodies were discovered
MIke visits site in Victorville where bodies were discovered


  1. Great write up Mark! It was an honor to know Joey and his faith continues to spread through others Teresa Baiz

  2. Thank you so much for this wonderful article. The McStay and Aranda families, friends, and strangers from around the world who have come to care so deeply for this family, really need to see more things like this and less of the craziness that has surrounded this case. I believe that God continues to work in the lives of many through Joey’s testimony, as well as seeing Mike & Erin’s faith in God to see this through to the end.
    God bless you Mark for writing this story…and the other’s for sharing their memories of Joey and his faith.
    Sincerely and with love and heartfelt condolences to all…
    Tanya Smith

  3. God Bless the family of this dear family. God will prevail in this, and there will be justice. Stay strong The McStay Family. You have many supporter’s!

  4. The family’s faith in God is, I believe, the powerful unseen divine connection that has touched and drawn so many many people to the four of them and their family. People all over the world who had never even met them in person have prayed, shed tears, and thanked God, and are praying again, myself included.

  5. Teresa, I saw a photo online of a letter Joey wrote to ‘Teresa’ quoting John 8:12, I guess that is you. 🙂

  6. I’m so sorry for your loss Michael,I can’t imagine anyone out there would hurt your family including the little boys too it breaks my heart to wonder who would do such a thing to kill children I worked with children everyday when I see the kids at work I hug each one of them saying I love you feeling bad for your loss I’m hoping to attend to the funeral to give my love and condolences to your loss and place flowers and toys for the mc stays funeral much love Lora.

  7. Thank you for sharing such a story of loss yet joyful love, Michael. Joey’s love for Jesus shines on through your testimony of his faith and his obvious exuberance for the Lord. Your family is in our prayers. Just think – Joey, Summer, Gianni and Joe Jr. are about to celebrate Christmas in the presence of Jesus – how perfect is that?

  8. Living in distant island of Mauritius, I was not aware of this tragic event until this morning while reading “Christian News”. I was really moved as I read about the senseless killing of that wonderful God believing family. One is at a loss trying to understand why people should want to kill such innocent children. Do they not realize Jesus rebuked His own disciples for trying to drive them away from Him: ” Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14, NIV)? Even more worthy of note is Jesus’ warning in Matthew : ” Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven” (18:10, KJV).

    Equally moving is the dramatic way Joey came to the Lord. Such conversions cannot be disputed! The Lord revealed Himself to him as the true Light of the world ( John 8:12) that takes people out of spiritual darkness – the state in which, unfortunately, the killers are, unless they have, in the meantime, come to the knowledge of God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. I was also impressed by the way Joey testified to others and was instrumental in bringing to The Lord both new converts and backsliders! No doubt he is today and for eternity reaping his rewards: ” Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your Master’s happiness” ( Matthew 25:21,23, NIV).
    As for Brother Mike, I earnestly encourage him to remain steadfast in his walk of faith and look ahead where Jesus is waiting to welcome all His Bloodbought children in the eternal and golden Abode He has gone to prepare for us (John 14:1-4; Revelation 21-22:6).
    A word of warning,though, to those responsible for this tragedy: “For we know Him who said: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay”. And again: “The Lord will judge His people”. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:30-31, NIV).
    The way out? “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38,NIV). “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out” (Acts 3:19). Sincere, genuine, authentic repentance. Nothing more, nothing less.

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