A sister’s quest to find her missing brother

As he set up a chess board at a mental health treatment center in Agoura Hills, Jack Stein looked at his roommate as if he had seen a ghost. The 24-year-old went to his room, laced his shoes and walked out into the summer evening.

It was the last time anyone saw him.

Her sister, Zoë Kustritz, is still trying to figure out what happened.

Kustritz, 27, flew to Los Angeles from Cambridge, Mass., last weekend, continuing the search for her only sibling.

As she strolled the boardwalk between Santa Monica and Venice Beach, she handed out stickers she had made. “Was Jack there?”

Kustritz said his brother taught surf lessons at a nearby store a few summers ago. He loved the beach.

One man — a 53-year-old man who goes by the name Leaf-n-Thewind — said he hung out with Stein a few times. When Kustritz said his brother kept a sketchbook, the man showed him some drawings he believed Stein had created and said, “That’s him.”

“You give me some hope right now,” Kustritz said.

An undated picture shows Jack Stein, who disappeared in July.

(Stein family)

Stein is one of more than 41,400 adults missing in California in 2021, about 60% of whom were male, according to a report from the state attorney general’s office. About a quarter of the cases were in Los Angeles County.

Last year, nearly 29,000 missing people in the state returned on their own or were found by law enforcement, the California Department of Justice reports.

But not everyone had a happy ending. More than 1,400 missing people have been arrested and 831 have died, according to the state report.

Many agencies consider a person missing for more than a year an “unsolved case,” according to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.

Kustritz wants to make sure that doesn’t happen with Stein.

Det. from the Los Angeles County Sheriff. Shannon Rincon, who is handling Stein’s case, said law enforcement officials believe Stein is still alive, likely living between Venice and Malibu.

There have been numerous sightings of people who match Stein’s description, Rincon said, and several deputies believe they may have encountered him. But so far they have not been able to find him.

“I would love to bring him home to the family,” Rincon said. “Unfortunately, even if we find him, if he doesn’t want to come back, we can’t force him.”

Zoë Kustritz talks to a beachgoer at Topanga State Beach.

Zoë Kustritz talks to a beachgoer at Topanga State Beach. Kustritz is looking for his brother, who was 24 when he disappeared.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

Stein graduated from the University of Minnesota in the spring of 2020 with a degree in economics and landed a job as a broker at a financial services firm in St. Paul, his sister said.

Kustritz describes him as an ambitious and charming person “who could befriend anyone”. He’s also a talented artist, she added, and an accomplished athlete, particularly when it comes to anything that has a board — surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding.

But he was plagued by psychological demons, his sister said, and for a long time refused to seek treatment.

Stein began slipping into what Kustritz described as a mental health crisis in May 2021 while living in Minneapolis.

By the end of the month, he had driven to Southern California, a place he told his sister “where I was really calm.”

Stein had left his previous job and was about to start another – but pushed back his start date when he made the trip west, his sister said.

But things did not go smoothly. When he had to leave a sober second home due to his instability, Stein phoned his mother and sister on June 13. He told them he had been walking all night – that he was ‘stuck’ and needed help. They immediately flew away.

Kustritz said her family was “totally desperate” to get Stein the help they felt they needed. They called the police and social services to try to get him admitted to a hospital or mental health facility and held there for his own safety – to no avail.

Finally, they found Inspire Malibu, a private treatment center on Kanan Road in Agoura Hills. He agreed to start treatment on June 15.

Zoë Kustritz sticks stickers on the Malibu Pier trash cans in the hope that her brother or someone who knows him will see them.

Zoë Kustritz sticks stickers on the Malibu Pier trash cans in the hope that her brother or someone who knows him will see them.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

Kustritz and her mother returned home, but returned for a visit the following month.

The pair had seen Stein hours before he disappeared and were having dinner about a mile or two away when they learned he had walked out of the facility around 8 p.m. on July 13. They rushed as a frantic search began.

Helicopters scoured the area from the air and a search party deployed on the ground.

The 6-foot-3, 180-pound Stein, who has blue eyes and reddish-blonde hair, was not carrying a cellphone or ID when he walked away, officials said.

A missing person bulletin released by the LA County Sheriff’s Department notes that Stein suffers from bipolar disorder and depression. Facebook page Help Find Jack Stein says he’s “probably looking to hurt himself”.

Over the next few days, the family walked nearly every street in Agoura Hills, Westlake Village, and Thousand Oaks. They searched for Stein in Malibu and Venice Beach, checking shelters and homeless encampments.

Less than a week after her disappearance, the family bought ads on Facebook, Google and Instagram. A friend distributed over 200 posters of Venice at Zuma Beach. In late December, they paid to have a billboard placed atop a bike shop in Venice.

And in February, Kustritz returned to Los Angeles for the first time since Stein’s disappearance, to continue her search efforts.

“If he ever shows up, he’s going to be mad at me for everything I did to try to find him,” Kustritz said.

But she reflected: “It would be great if he got mad at me and showed up.”

Zoë Kustritz flew from Massachusetts to Santa Monica to hand out stickers to raise awareness of her brother, Jack Stein.

Zoë Kustritz flew from Massachusetts to Santa Monica to hand out stickers to raise awareness for her brother, Jack Stein, who left a mental health facility months ago and was never seen again.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

Kustritz hopes his sticker campaign will help spread the word and can connect with anyone who has seen Stein or knows his whereabouts.

The orange stickers are based on Stein’s sketches. Kustritz hopes skate and surf shops will carry them.

She visited an area where Leaf-n-Thewind said he saw Stein. Several other people said they had met Stein or that he looked familiar.

Although Kustritz does not know the reliability of the accounts, she tries to follow every lead.

“Hope is much better than the alternative,” she said.

Los Angeles Times

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