What happened to Shawn Betz? Case of Upland 11-year-old missing for 34 years gets new attention – San Bernardino Sun

Shawn Betz bummed a few quarters off his mom to play video games in the back of a pizza joint in Upland, while she and his sister, Pamela, ordered a pie.

A few minutes later, he asked if he and a friend, who may have been the owner’s son, could go to Upland High School and watch the boy’s basketball game. Barbara Betz, his mother, said yes. As Shawn and the other boy left, he hollered: “Save me some pizza.”

Those were the last four words his family ever heard him say.

Patrick Shawn Betz, who went by his middle name, was 11 years old. He never came home that night. He has not been seen or heard from since that ordinary day, Jan. 20, 1988, more than 34 years ago. He’s the subject of the longest unsolved missing persons case in Upland history.

His father, Dennis Betz, agonized over his son’s disappearance every day until the day he died in 2009. With the case drawing some fresh attention in the past few weeks, Barbara Betz, 73, was asked about the re-energized investigation and whether she thinks her son is still alive.

“It is hard for me to stay hopeful,” she answered in a shaky voice. “Even if he is not alive, I’d still like to know what happened. Where his remains are. Where his bones are. I need some kind of closure.”

Little publicity

Shawn’s disappearance gathered little publicity, aside from a few articles published by this news organization. Later, his face appeared on milk cartons, courtesy of the National Child Safety Council. In the 1990s, his picture and name flashed across the TV screen in the May 1993 Soul Asylum music video for the group’s hit song “Runaway Train” that aired on MTV. A documentary from YouTube’s Crime Crusader also mentions Shawn’s case, among many other missing persons.

Also, a blurb about his disappearance and FBI-generated age progression images showing what he would look like at age 32, 38, 42, and age 45, the age he would be today, have appeared on numerous missing children sites in various forms, including the California Attorney General’s Missing Person’s site, the Charley Project, NamUs and Unidentified Wiki.

The sites listed above repeat the same generic information:

  • Patrick Shawn Betz, 11.
  • Missing since January 20, 1988 from Upland, San Bernardino County, California.
  • Endangered Missing
  • Date of Birth: June 21, 1976
  • Age at Time of Disappearance: 11 years old
  • Height and Weight: 4-foot, 7-inches, 90 pounds
  • Distinguishing Characteristics: White male. Brown hair, green eyes. Betz has a skin discoloration on his left jawline near his chin.
  • Circumstances of Disappearance: Betz was last seen near The Pizza Chalet on Foothill and Euclid Streets in Upland, California on January 20, 1988. He apparently spent time in the pizza parlor playing video games with an unidentified juvenile before leaving.
  • If you have any information on Betz’s whereabouts, please contact: Upland Police Department, 909-946-7624.

On Monday, Feb. 14, Crime Hound on YouTube will release a new video about the case containing fresh interviews with family members and friends who remember Shawn, said Lindy Baxter, the channel’s creator and editor. The channel, with nearly 5,000 subscribers, focuses on unsolved/solved murders, missing people, and John and Jane Does.

“The goal is to give voice to victims if at all possible,” Baxter wrote in an email Feb. 1. Baxter creates the story videos as a hobby from her home in Montana. She agreed to post one on Shawn after she was contacted by Stephen Ondich, an Upland resident and business owner who has been working with the Betz family to draw more publicity to the cold case.

After posting on social media, Ondich heard from someone who knew the Betz family in the late 1980s. A friend of Shawn’s also has come forward and spoken with Upland police, according to Ondich. This has renewed hope that the family and the community may find out what happened to Shawn, he said.

Shawn was last seen at the strip mall at the major intersection of Foothill Boulevard and Euclid Avenue, “and disappeared under the watchful eye of the Madonna of the Trail,” Ondich said, ominously referring to the statue on the street median.

“The public perception is Shawn’s case is either forgotten or in some bureaucratic purgatory,” Ondich told the Upland City Council at a meeting in December. “Let’s work together to get some long overdue answers for the Betz family.”

Fresh eyes

Since mid-December, Upland police have been interviewing persons they say may know something about Shawn’s disappearance. But so far, police say the interviews have not turned up any solid leads.

“We are taking a different approach, giving a fresh set of eyes to the entire case,” Upland police Lt. Anthony Kabayan said.

The Police Department recently collected samples of DNA from the family and submitted it to the FBI, Kabayan said.

“We’ve contacted a couple people recently about the case,” he added, declining to be more specific. “We are starting to move forward on names we can go back on.”

The Betz family has raised questions about the pizza shop owners, who closed up shop and left shortly after Shawn’s disappearance. No one knew where they went, according to the family, but rumors were they returned to their home country. Kabayan said there’s no evidence the former business owners were involved or know anything about where Shawn may have gone that night.

“We’ve been in contact with people who no longer live in the state,” Kabayan said. “We are definitely working the case.”

Mayor Bill Velto, 63, a lifelong Upland resident, remembers the case. He was emotional after Barbara Betz appealed to the City Council in December to turn up the heat on the investigation, which the family has said was not a priority.

“I remember this. It is heartbreaking,” Velto responded at the Dec. 13 meeting. “And I assure you our Police Department and many, many residents hope some sort of answer could come forth, for Barbara and Pamela.”

There are 89,637 people missing and listed in active missing persons records of the FBI’s National Crime Information Center through the year 2020. Of those, children under age 18 account for 30,396 or about 34 percent.

A blanket, a baseball glove …

Barbara Betz said the police initially told her that Shawn may have run away. That theory may have been related to the fact he had had an altercation with another young person at Sierra Vista Elementary School and was required to show up at juvenile court to settle the matter.

But Barbara Betz said her son did not think that was such a big deal and would not have run away to skip the court appearance. And he would not have left without his trusty blanket, she said.

She and other family members remember his bed was not slept in and his favorite items — including a worn-smooth blanket — remained in his bedroom at their Upland residence. Other items that remained: His baseball glove. Little League trophies. Backpack. New boom box. “Dukes of Hazard” toy car. Remote-control truck. Plus, none of his clothes were missing, his mother said.

Barbara Betz, who now lives in Fontana, keeps Shawn’s blanket in a storage unit, she said.

“He liked that blanket. He didn’t carry it around but when he got tired, he would grab that blanket. He played with the silk fringe on the blanket,” she said.

‘Happy go-lucky’

Kevin Charlebois, 45, of Temecula, was friends with Shawn. Charlebois, the same age as Shawn, saw the Facebook post by Ondich and responded. At age 9, the boys played baseball together on the same Little League team sponsored by Foothill Independent Bank, he remembered.

Charlebois said Shawn took the game seriously. And was good at it.

“He was always a happy kid. He was sociable with friends. Always had a smile on his face,” he said.

Shawn’s mother called him a “happy go-lucky” kid who liked baseball, video games and skateboarding. She recalled he would visit the Radio Shack store in town and do odd jobs for the owner, such as sweep the floors.

Ondich said in reading posts from folks on social media and talking with those who knew him, they painted a picture of Shawn as tough, street smart, the kind of kid who would not back down from a fight.

“There was no way he would be lured into a car to look for a puppy,” Ondich said. “He was a little bit of a mischief maker.”

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