MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The hunt for a missing Twin Cities man ended in heartbreak on Thanksgiving.
Relatives said hikers discovered 35-year-old Joseph Hernandez’ body near Friendly Marsh Park in Mendota Heights Thursday afternoon. Hernandez had vanished from nearby motel four weeks ago.
After learning their loved one was dead on a holiday centered around family, Hernandez’ relatives are trying to remain positive and hope police can find more answers.
“He’s just all around good guy, would do anything for anybody,” Hernandez’ cousin Nick Zubulake said. “He always put everyone’s needs in front of his.”
Zubulake said he grew up alongside Hernadez and considered him like brother. A brother who mysteriously vanished four weeks ago in the middle of the night. Police said Hernandez was last seen near the Mendota Heights Motel.
“As the days went on, we began to start losing hope but in the back of our mind you know we always thought we might find him,” Zubulake said.
Hernandez’ family organized search parties, scouring the wooded area near the hotel.
“We just need to find him, whether it’s good or bad,” Hernandez’ aunt, Michelle Hernandez, said.
But it was on Thanksgiving Day, a time when Hernandez’ presence was missed the most, that their prayers were answered.
Police said hikers came across a body while they were walking in the park.
Zubulake said he was eating dinner when he got a phone call and immediately went to the scene. While police haven’t identified the body as Hernandez, Zubulake and his family said it’s him.
“(Police) told us to go over in the church parking lot and they came and briefed us about what was going on. It’s total sadness because of just how important he was to the family. But it’s just total relief of him being home. Like I told you before, it’s some families don’t get that closure. We are getting it,” he said.
Zubulake said how Hernadez died is up for police to figure out. His only concern now is planning a funeral, showing gratitude during this tough time.
“To the people that found him, the family would like to thank them. If there’s any way they can get a hold of us,” Zubulake said.
Hernandez leaves behind a daughter. Police said they likely won’t release any new information, such as a cause of death, until Monday.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, as well as the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office, are helping with the investigation.