Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

Body of missing Santa Ana College student found near Fullerton creek

Fullerton police said they have found near a creek bed the body of a 21-year-old Santa Ana College student who vanished over the weekend while taking his girlfriend's dog for a walk.

The remote area where the body of James Patrick Wernke was found this morning was heavily wooded, and the creek could have been overflowing from recent heavy rains, said Lt. Alex Bastreri of the Fullerton Police Department.

"There is nothing suspicious" Bastreri said.

Police were still waiting for the Orange County coroner's office to pick up the body and conduct a proper identification.

Family, friends and authorities had been searching frantically for Wernke, who was last seen Saturday afternoon in the 3000 block of Sunnywood Drive in Fullerton, walking his girlfriend's yellow Labrador retriever, Kealie.

Earlier today, before the discovery, Wernke’s girlfriend, Sami Bock, was at a loss for words. She could not comprehend how her boyfriend of three years vanished.

“This isn’t like him at all, he wouldn’t do something like this,” Bock said, the sound of tears often muffling the phone. “He’s very outgoing … very charismatic. He’s not going to just go on a walk and disappear.”

Bock, 20, is attending Long Island University in Brooklyn and said the last time she heard from Wernke was at 1:40 p.m. Saturday, and the message was nothing out the ordinary. She flew in last night from New York and said she thinks being around family will be good for her.

She said Wernke, a pitcher for the Santa Ana College baseball team, was working toward a full athletic scholarship to Cal State Long Beach.

“I don’t know… maybe he struggled. …He’s out there with the dog,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion. “Maybe something took a toll on him, and he’s just out there – I don’t know.”

Bock said they would spend weekends talking to each other on Skype, an online video conferencing site. She said he wasn’t the type to go out and party and drink.

Bob Wernke, James Wernke's father, said he and his wife last heard from their son about 1:15 p.m. Saturday and after a number of unreturned text messages, they began to worry. Then they received a phone call from Diana Bock, Sami’s mother, that she was calling the police to report him missing.

The Wernkes immediately flew from their Colorado home to Fullerton. Because of James Wernke's stature, he stood 6-feet-2 and weighed about 190 pounds, Bob Wernke said he had played every scenario in his head as to what could have happened to his son but “nothing works.”

“We’re ruling out foul play; it would take quite a lot of guys to take him down," said Bob Wernke, in a telephone interview before the discovery. "Maybe he slipped in the wet rain and banged his head or something. What makes this really bizarre to me is that he’s grown up in this area. He’s not lost.”

But, he continued, “If he fell and was hurt, we would have found him by now, or at least the dog. We’re beside ourselves.”

Bloodhounds traced a scent to a nearby 7-Eleven store about a mile away before losing it near Imperial Highway. The Labrador, who is microchipped, hasn’t been located, Bastreri said.

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy

More breaking news in L.A. Now:

Truckers protest in downtown L.A. against new clean-air rules at ports

South Pasadena High students plan tribute to classmate who died after party

L.A. City Council committee weighs creating utility ratepayer advocate

Holiday food, gifts destroyed in Santa Ana soup kitchen fire 

Comments () | Archives (35)

Sad story. You'll be in my prayers.

I've been watching this case over the weekend and am really saddened for the family. It is a strange incident and hopefully they can find out what happened. It will not ease their pain but possibly at least allow them closure. May God bless them.

Tremendously sad ending to what sounds like an ordinary walk in the woods. Condolences to Mr Wernke's family and friends.

Very sad. Is it possible somebody attacked him and stole the dog? Is there any camera footage at the 7-11?

very sad story indeed. Hope they find out what happened.


Body found near water...Male victim 18-24 years old.

this isn't funny anymore. THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT NEEDS TO look inTO THIS!

I am going to guess the dog fell into the creek which gets flowing during a rain storm. He then tried to save the dog and got in trouble. The dog may turn up downstream or in the catch basin near the hospital. Our prayers are with the family, may they find peace.

This is just too sad.

seems to me the time to pray was prior to his death. that god fella is cruel

Sorry it turned out this way.
I hope the family learns what happened quickly.

Same here, my daughter was convinced she saw this guy at home depot yesterday, too bad she was wrong.

James has been on my mind constantly since I first heard this story on Saturday. The neighborhood where he went missing is 5 minutes from my place. How utterly devastating for his parents, sister, girlfriend, and the rest of his extended family and friends. He seemed like an exceptional guy with so much going for him. Truly tragic in every way. I hope they can all find the strength within themselves to get through each day from here on out. They've got quite a rough road ahead of them. I wish them all the best.

The dog was micro-chipped. Why can't they find it? What's the purpose of chipping the dogs if we still can't locate them?

Too bad you reported the fact that the dog is microchipped. Although foul play is not suspected, if there was someone involved and they took the dog, they will now dispose of it.

Sad, sad story. Since the dog is also missing, it seems a possibility that the dog was swept away in the stream and he died trying to rescue it.

I feel for the family... I have two daughters and I cannot imagine going through what they are... I will say a prayer for the family tonight..

I am so sorry for the loss of this promising young man. My heart goes out to his family.

Sad deal here. I hope they do find out what happend here. Just a little bit here. Does anyone but me think A. & B do not make C here. Something is just not right!!!!!!
I hope hope the best for all the people here.. This is just very sad!

We used to live right near where the young man was found. We have walked along the creek with groups of elementary school kids from Hermosa Dr School when the creek was only a few inches deep in late spring. My son and his friends used to ride their mountain bikes there, too. Although it's really not remote as has been reported, certainly when the creek is full like last weekend, it could be dangerous. How sad for the neighborhood and especially his family, friends, and girlfriend.



I hope the dog is OK.

My condolences go out to the family and friends. This is a very tragic loss, I will keep you in my prayers.

Those dogs love water and love to jump in to retrieve. He may have thrown a stick, dog went in, was overwhelmed. Then, he jumped into to rescue. He was taken downstream, knocked on rocks. Water subsides, he is dead on land. Dog's body is down stream some where

I live in Fullerton and have a son 22. I have been following this and am so saddened that the outcome was this. My prayers are with his family and friends. So sorry for your loss.

I live in La Habra & I cannot believe this promising athlete was found dead. I hope the family finds out exactly what happened. My thoughts & heart go out to his family as well as loved ones.

1 2 | »


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...


About L.A. Now
L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
Have a story tip for L.A. Now?
Please send to newstips@latimes.com
Can I call someone with news?
Yes. The city desk number is (213) 237-7847.


Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: