A Pennsylvania woman who disappeared more than three decades ago and was declared legally dead has been found alive in a Puerto Rico nursing home, her family and police said.

Patricia Kopta disappeared in 1992, and over the years, investigators had followed leads into her disappearance, Ross Township Deputy Police Chief Brian Kohlhepp said Friday.

A family photo of Patricia Kopta taken in the early 1990s. Kopta, who disappeared in 1992, was found alive in Puerto Rico.family photo

Before she disappeared from her north Pittsburgh home, Kopta was known to be an «eccentric» street preacher who called herself «Sparrow,» the chief said.

Patricia Kopta in a residence for adults in Puerto Rico.
Patricia Kopta in an adult care home in Puerto Rico. Ross Township Police

Seven years after she went missing, Kopta, now 83, was taken as a «needy person» to a nursing home after she was found wandering in northern Puerto Rico, Kohlhepp told reporters at a news conference. press on Thursday.

He had kept details of his life secret, but as the years passed, Kopta, who suffers from dementia, began divulging information, Kohlhepp said.

Last year, Kopta had revealed enough information for a nursing home social worker to contact Pennsylvania authorities about his identity. A DNA test confirmed that she was the missing woman, Kohlhepp said.

“She was worried that they were going to institutionalize her,” Kohlhepp said Friday. «Which is what we believe led her to decide to flee the country.»

Prior to her disappearance, Kopta was briefly in a facility after doctors diagnosed her with «delusions of grandeur» and said she had signs of schizophrenia. She was released and continued to preach until she disappeared, her family said.

In Puerto Rico, he wandered through the northern island towns of Naranjito, Corozal, and Toa Alta, located just southwest of the capital of San Juan. When she was first taken to the adult home, she had hinted that she had come to Puerto Rico on a cruise ship from Europe, Kohlhepp said.

Bob Kopta, 86, of Pittsburgh, said Friday that he had been married for 20 years when his wife went missing. He said that his family suspected that she might be in Puerto Rico. Over the years, Bob Kopta said that he had placed an ad in a Puerto Rican newspaper to try to find her and had consulted with a psychic about her whereabouts.

Kopta, a retired electrician, said his wife was pronounced dead about 25 years ago.

“It’s a relief to know that she’s not lying in a ditch somewhere, or murdered somewhere,” he said, saying that whenever local police discovered a body, he worried it might be his wife.

Patricia Kopta also had two sisters: a twin, who died six years ago, and a younger sister who was relieved to learn she was still alive, Bob Kopta said.

He added that over the decades, he has experienced a variety of emotions, but is glad to know that Patricia is alive and under the care of professionals.

“After 30 years, you try to forget it. Now I can forget about it. We know what happened, and she is being cared for now,” she said.

Patricia Kopta worked as an elevator operator at the Pittsburgh Art Institute before she went missing, Bob Kopta said.

She had been a straight A student who became a model and dance instructor. After graduating from high school, she worked in finance at a Pittsburgh plate glass company and attended weekly ballroom dance events, according to her family.

Patricia Kopta’s younger sister, Gloria Smith, now 78, told The Associated Press that her sister used to vacation in Puerto Rico with friends before getting married. «She just loved the ocean, the beach, the warm sun.»

Smith said she looks forward to visiting her sister, even though she is in a deteriorating mental state.

«Whether she knows me or not, I still want to see her and give her a hug and tell her that I love her,» Smith said. «I thought maybe she had died.»

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