PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The ex-boyfriend of a woman who vanished last month died Monday in a jailhouse suicide, authorities said.
Bryan Penner, 31, was pronounced dead at a Bend hospital nearly 12 hours after a fellow inmate found him in grave condition at the Deschutes County Jail. The cause of death was suicide by asphyxiation, District Attorney John Hummel said.
His ex-girlfriend, 24-year-old Sara Gomez, was last seen Feb. 19. Penner was arrested two days later, charged with violating a restraining order Gomez took out against him.
He pleaded not guilty to charges of contempt of court. He had not been charged in the woman’s disappearance, but the prosecutor said he was the only suspect and noted his death will make the search more difficult.
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“Unfortunately, as the search for Sara extended from hours, to days, to weeks, it became obvious we are searching for her body and she will not be found alive,” Hummel said.
Gomez was last seen leaving a Bend supermarket where she was worked late at night.
She received a restraining order against Penner in December. She said he had come to her workplace several times and threatened violence, The Bulletin newspaper of Bend reported. She also told a judge that Penner had attempted suicide and skipped mental health treatment.
Elizabeth Fennell, Gomez’s sister, told the newspaper the suicide was devastating for the family, which has been conducting frequent searches.
“I just don’t understand why the jail didn’t keep him in a special place,” she said. “Because we all knew he was capable of this.”
Capt. Michael Shults, a jail official, said in a statement that Penner had been in jail for more than two weeks and displayed no signs of being suicidal. After being evaluated by mental health professionals, he was housed in a dormitory.
Police have asked residents on the east side of Bend to be alert for any clues that might lead them to Gomez.