In the month since his sister disappeared, 21-year-old Steven Matula has barely left search mode.
Determined to be a comfort to his devastated parents, he’s buried most signs of emotion and abandoned his typical shyness to tirelessly lead the charge to find his only sibling.
“I just care about bringing Mandy home,” he said Friday during an interview at his parents’ Eden Prairie home, where he sat surrounded by photos of him and his sister.
Just days after Mandy Matula, 24, left her family home May 1 during an argument with a former boyfriend, her younger brother was facing TV news cameras and hundreds of volunteers, helping search not just for his sister, but for other Twin Cities missing women — Kira Steger, 30, also known as Kira Trevino, of St. Paul, and Danielle Jelinek, 28, of Oakdale.
Now only one remains missing: his sister.
There have been few leads and little evidence, despite numerous searches from Eden Prairie to St. Cloud, continuing with boat searches Sunday on the Mississippi River that were again unsuccessful. The day after Matula disappeared, the ex-boyfriend, David Roe, 24, of Victoria, fatally shot himself in the Eden Prairie Police Department’s parking lot when he was called in for questioning. Now, four weeks later, the many fruitless searches have left Matula’s family exhausted, but undeterred.
“Every week we go searching, we’re getting closer and closer,” Steven Matula said.
The last family member to see Mandy Matula was her father, Wayne. Late on May 1, he saw her go out to Roe’s car to talk with him, her cellphone and purse left behind. In a short phone call at 8 a.m. May 2, Mandy’s mother, Lisa, asked Roe where her daughter was; he said she had gotten out of his car at nearby Miller Park to walk home. When Roe didn’t answer subsequent calls, they reported her missing.
Steven Matula now represents his family on searches, a task too difficult for his grieving parents. On Friday, as he spoke with the Star Tribune, his tearful mother, who asked not to be interviewed or photographed, told him, “I’m proud of you.”
“I’ve accepted that Mandy is gone,” he said. “I just keep moving forward.”
Strong ties to the community
The case has gripped the suburban community. Steven and Mandy are both Eden Prairie High School grads. Their mother runs an in-home day care and has volunteered for years at Miller Park’s concession stand. And at City Hall, where Roe took his life in the parking lot, Steven Matula works as a city mechanic and his sister worked as a seasonal park maintenance worker.
“It’s impacted the whole community,” said Jeannie Palmer, whose son attended Matula’s day care.
Palmer is now helping the family with the searches and a community fundraiser Monday at the bowling center where Mandy Matula worked part-time and first met Roe.
Palmer spoke admiringly of Steven’s quest to find his outgoing, energetic sister. “This is Mandy’s strength coming out through him,” she said. “He’s doing it all for her.”
The siblings are tight-knit. Over a game of golf the day before she disappeared, Mandy confided to her brother about a man she was interested in dating.
Though Roe is the only suspect in her disappearance, Matula’s family have spoken kindly of him, saying that he was well-mannered and loved by them. His only fault, they say, was jealousy. He was determined to get back together with Matula after a breakup six months ago, and they believe he snapped when she told him she was interested in someone else.
In 2007, court documents show, a previous girlfriend filed a restraining order against Roe after the 6-foot-2 football player allegedly punched her in the stomach and stalked her after their relationship ended.
Four days before Roe met Matula that final time, he bought a gun, practicing at a shooting range the day before. Police have since found Matula’s blood on a jacket in Roe’s car and an unfired bullet near a church by her home, confirmed to be from the same gun he used.
Roe, who was studying criminal justice in St. Cloud, told police the couple was going through “tough times,” but were working through it. Hours later, he shot himself, leaving a Post-it note on his car about a goodbye video he left for his younger brother.
A new mission
Now, Steven Matula has come to realize that many of the questions in his sister’s case may remain forever unanswered. But since seeing Kira Steger’s parents plead for the public’s help in finding her body, he has a new mission: help families going through the kind of acute but ambiguous grief that only a few families like his truly understand.
“I’m just trying to put more faith in humanity,” he said.
He started a Facebook group to help others that he hopes to eventually formalize, showing up with several group members in their neon yellow shirts recently at a memorial for a missing Elk River toddler.
“Have you heard of the missing girl from Eden Prairie?” he said then. “I’m the brother.”
‘A spirit to give back’
It’s a motivation that David Francis said is common among families of missing loved ones. After their 24-year-old son disappeared in the Sawtooth Mountains, he and his wife started the Jon Francis Foundation, encouraged by Patty Wetterling.
“A lot of foundations rise out of personal tragedy in a spirit to give back,” he said. “Our motivation was to pay it forward.”
That’s now Steven Matula’s newfound passion, finding strength in the continued search for his beloved sister and other Twin Cities missing women. “Why should it stop after Mandy is found?” he said. “I’ll still be here for everybody’s families.”