An American woman who was declared legally dead after disappearing more than 30 years ago is alive in Puerto Rico, her family and police say.
Patricia Kopta, 83, was last seen in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1992 when investigators began investigating her disappearance.
Ross Township Deputy Police Chief Brian Colehepp said Friday that she was known as an “eccentric” street preacher who went by the alias “Sparrow.”
Mrs Copta, who suffers from dementia, has been living in a care home after being taken in as a “person in need” seven years after she disappeared.
‘It’s a relief she wasn’t murdered’
Her husband, Bob Kopta, said he had been married to Mrs. Kopta for 20 years before she disappeared.
“It’s a relief to know she wasn’t lying in a ditch somewhere, or murdered somewhere,” he said.
The 86-year-old added that his family suspected she might be in Puerto Rico, but she was pronounced dead about 25 years ago.
The retired electrician also said he had consulted a psychic about her whereabouts.
Mr Kopta added that Mrs Kopta had two sisters, a twin who died six years ago and a sister who was relieved to learn she was alive.
He said he had gone through a range of emotions over the years, but he found satisfaction in knowing his wife was alive and cared for.
“After 30 years, you try to forget it. Now I can forget it. We know what happened and now she is taken care of,” he said.
Mrs Copta ‘fears she will be institutionalized’
Mr. Copta said his wife worked as an elevator operator at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh before her disappearance.
Before her disappearance, doctors at a US mental health facility diagnosed Mrs Copta with “delusional megalomania” and said she showed signs of schizophrenia.
But her family said Ms Copta had been preaching since her release from the facility until she disappeared.
Mr Kohlhepp has said police believe Mrs Kopta fled the country because she was “fearful that she would be sent to an asylum”.
During her stay on the island, she is believed to have hung out frequently around the northern Puerto Rican towns of Naranguito, Corozal and Toa Alta, southwest of the capital San Juan.
Mrs Copta kept details of her life private while she was in the nursing home, but as the years went by, she began to leak information.
Last year, her revelations led a nursing home social worker to contact Pennsylvania authorities for her identity.
“She just loves the ocean”
Copta said she had arrived in Puerto Rico from Europe on a cruise ship when she first arrived home, police said.
However, her family says she was actually a straight A student in the US and later became a model and dance instructor.
After high school, she worked in finance for a flat glass company in Pittsburgh and took part in weekly ballroom dancing, according to her family.
Mrs. Kopta’s younger sister, Gloria Smith, 78, said her younger sister often vacationed in Puerto Rico with friends before getting married.
“She just loves the ocean, the beach and the warmth of the sun.”
Ms Smith said she hoped to visit her sister, despite her declining mental state.
“Whether she knows me or not, I still want to meet her and give her a hug and tell her I love her,” Ms Smith said.