It’s been five years since Mike VanZandt vanished when enjoying a night out with friends on Hermosa Beach’s Pier Plaza.

There has been no trace of Mike VanZandt, a father of three and Air Force veteran, since Saturday, March 5, 2016. Even the Investigation Discovery Channel documentary show “Disappeared” — which aired an episode about Mike VanZandt in 2018 — failed to produce any real leads.

While the anniversary of his disappearance has always been tough for the VanZandt family, this year’s date has special significance: After a person has been missing for five years, according to California law, that person’s family can begin the process to declare them legally dead.

Mike VanZandt’s family have begun that difficult process, all while they still have a “gaping hole in our hearts,” his brother Tyler VanZandt said.

“Five years ago, thinking that if you work hard enough, and you get the story out, that you’re gonna find something,” Tyler VanZandt said. “It just amazes most people that anyone in this day and age, with all the technology and video cameras and the connectivity of everyone, in a populated place that you could ever vanish.”

He goes missing

It all unfolded that Saturday night.

Mike VanZandt, who was 36 and lived in Lancaster at the time, met up with his friends at The Underground near Pier Plaza to watch a UFC Fight, according to his brother.

Video footage has shown him in a line at American Junkie and then at Roberts Liquor, next door, to find a bathroom. He walked through the liquor store and then returned back to Pier Plaza.

Tyler VanZandt said during this time, his brother’s friends had moved to other bars. Mike VanZandt can be seen for the next couple hours searching for his friends, until he returned to Roberts Liquor and purchased an unknown item.

“His friends tried to contact him to share they had moved locations, but (his) phone was dead and phone records confirmed that it was not used throughout the evening,” said Tyler VanZandt, adding that his friends reached out to him more than 20 times. “That video footage had shown him within 10-to-15 yards of his friends throughout the night, but they never made the connection.”

At 11:27 p.m., the last image caught of Mike was recorded: He walked northeast through the Mermaid parking lot.

When, on Sunday morning, he did not return to his hotel and his car was in the same parking space, his friends called jails and hospitals.

Then, on Monday, he did not show up at work at Edwards Air Force Base, where he was a Unit Training Manager. So a friend who was out with him that evening filed a missing persons report.

Hermosa Beach Police Det. Joshua Droz said in an 2018 interview that a lack of witnesses, little camera evidence and rain the evening of the disappearance did not help with the investigation.

Droz said none of Mike’s property was ever found and it would be a “big guess” of what happened. He said there is no evidence of suicide or foul play, but an accidental drowning could be an explanation.

And on Thursday, Hermosa Beach Police Det. Matthew Franco said there is “nothing new to report at this time.

“The case is still ongoing and we continue to follow up on any and all leads,” said Franco in an email. “We continue to ask the pubic for any information that may lead to us locating Mr. VanZandt.”

A family’s grief

When Tyler VanZandt arrived in L.A. from Baltimore the Tuesday after his brother’s disappearance, he met with Droz, and was joined by his brother Charles, and Mike’s wife, Krishain VanZandt. (The couple were in the process of being separated at the time, and her name is now Krishain Roth.)

In a phone interview on Friday, Roth said she tried to get in touch with Mike VanZandt on Monday morning to talk to him about their son’s oral surgery appointment. She wasn’t immediately concerned — that is, until she found out he didn’t show up for work that day.

“The details started coming in that nobody had seen or heard from him since that Saturday prior,” she said. “So I just instantly knew that something was wrong, because that’s not like him.”

She said the only thing that got her through his disappearance were their children, Keaton, Jayden and Kyleah.

“I don’t think I’m as emotionally strong and resilient as they are,” she said. “So I’ve gotten strength from them, honestly.

“They’re obviously crushed and they miss him every single day,” she added. “But they’ve handled it just with so much grace and strength. And it’s it’s just been incredible to watch them succeed and grow and get through this the way they have.”

Keaton VanZandt was 14 years old when his father vanished. While his parents were separating, his father was living in an apartment, and he and his mother and two siblings were living in a house in Lancaster, about 20 minutes away from each other.

When he came home from school that Monday, family friends and his mother’s friends were at the house. She pulled him aside and told him his father was missing.

“My reaction was kind of confused. I didn’t understand exactly what that meant at the time, but it was a really strange day,” he recalled by phone Friday.

Keaton VanZandt, a freshman at Fresno State, said the past five years have been tough, but he understands that he needs to move on.

“In a way, it always feels like there’s some sort of hope, some sort of chance that he’s still there, like he could come back, even if it’s not true,” he said. “In a way it feels like he still exists, he’s still somewhere, so it doesn’t feel like completely terrible even if he won’t come back. And over time, I’ve gotten used to it.”

Keaton VanZandt said that he has visited Hermosa Beach to visit his uncle on a couple occasions and has seen the March 5, 2016, video footage of his father.

“Seeing it …  through crappy camera recordings and then we finally see it in real life, it’s honestly really strange, especially with how lively it is and people are all around and everything,” Keaton VanZandt said. “This is the scene where my dad went missing. It’s a very weird contradiction in a way.”

Roth said they did not have a lot of time to process things in the beginning, but now after five years, she said, “I don’t really know if I have decided that he’s gone forever and there’s no bringing him back either.”

“With everything being so unanswered, there still is a glimmer of hope that it was human trafficking, he was kidnapped,” she said. “Obviously those are farfetched scenarios, but still having those in the back of my mind gives me a little bit of hope to hold onto.”

Aftermath

The Investigation Discovery Channel documentary “Disappeared” created a lot of attention and is a continuous lead generator to Mike VanZandt’s disappearance, but none of those leads have been credible, Tyler VanZandt said.

The show airs frequently so people, from psychics to well-wishers, have reached out from all over the world. But they don’t all have good intentions; someone reached out to his mother in an extortion attempt.

“You’ll end up vetting them, and nothing ever comes out of them,” Tyler VanZandt said.

Five months after his brother disappeared, Tyler VanZandt moved to Redondo Beach to help with the search. And now, the family is in the early and difficult stages of declaring Mike VanZandt legally dead.

“It will end up opening a lot of wounds,” he said.

Roth has “been raising these kids without the benefit of their dad, and that has its impacts, obviously, emotionally, but also financially,” Tyler VanZandt said.

Roth said a few years back, when they first believed that Mike VanZandt was probably not going to return, they found out the family could petition the courts to declare him deceased after five years of him being missing. She said the process could take six-to-eight months.

“Now that it’s actually here and we’ve started the process to have him declared deceased,” she said, “it’s just mind-blowing.”

‘I miss you everyday’

Five years ago, after his brother’s disappearance, Tyler VanZandt passed out flyers.

“People assume that the person on the flyer is always involved in something,” he said. “So there’s this presumption that only people that are involved in bad things go missing. So part of what we have had to do is dispel that in this case.”

Tyler VanZandt feels his brother’s story resonates with people because they recognize that he was a “regular guy” and good person who was adventurous, kind, curious, inquisitive and loved his children.

In a Facebook post Friday, Tyler VanZandt said the last thing he and his brother said to each other was “I love you” while FaceTiming.

“I know in my heart there couldn’t have been anything better to say,” he wrote, “but if I knew that would have been the last time I would have said it 100 more times.

“I miss you every day,” he added, “and hope, as I do every year, that I am someone you would have been proud of.”

More information can be found on the “Find Mike VanZandt” Facebook page.

Contact Lisa Jacobs lisa.jacobs@TBRnews.com or follow her on Twitter @lisaannjacobs.

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