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Family fears mother whose son died in Morro Bay swam into the ocean to ‘be with Avery’

Crystal Danley has been despondent over the loss of her son, Avery Danley, who was found dead in Morro Bay last year. Her car was found abandoned this week near Ocean Beach in San Francisco.
Crystal Danley has been despondent over the loss of her son, Avery Danley, who was found dead in Morro Bay last year. Her car was found abandoned this week near Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

A missing Modesto woman who struggled with depression over the apparent drowning of her son 16 months ago in Morro Bay is feared dead after police in San Francisco located her car abandoned by the ocean.

Crystal Danley, 43, went missing on June 18 after suddenly leaving her friend’s home at 4 a.m. She has not been seen since.

But her car, a 1990 Ford Tauras wagon, was discovered this week parked near Ocean Beach, unlocked with her keys and purse stored under the driver’s seat, said Nancy Atwood, Danley’s mother.

Modesto Police Department spokeswoman Heather Graves confirmed that Danley’s car was found in San Francisco. She said the investigation is still pending, and the Modesto department is working with San Francisco police and the Golden Gate Park Service to find Danley.

Graves said police didn’t discover any indications of suspicious activity or foul play, and Danley’s whereabouts remain unknown.

Family, friends worried

Friends and family say that Danley commented to them in recent weeks that she felt regretful as a parent, saying she felt guilty over her son Avery Danley’s death and that she wanted to “be with Avery” in the ocean.

“I think she parked her car, put her purse under the seat, and went into the ocean and swam as far as she could until she couldn’t swim anymore,” Atwood said. “She always felt bad that Avery drowned. She felt like it was her fault.”

Sonja Hanson, a spokeswoman with the Golden Gate National Recreational Area, said that the car was found in the Lands End area on the northwest edge of the city.

Hanson said the Park Service conducted a search of the area, checking the trails and looking over the cliff edge. She also said that the agency periodically patrols the ocean waters in the area.

“We get notified if they find someone in the water or if they’re stranded on the cliffs,” Hanson said.

Avery Danley had been living in the Morro Bay Harbor on a boat his mother bought for him in early 2016. The 22-year-old was reported missing that February and after an extensive search was found dead in the Back Bay near Los Osos. The Morro Bay Police Department didn’t find any evidence of wrongdoing in the case, but it’s still unclear exactly what may have caused Danley’s death.

Emotional struggles

Crystal Danley had been working in Modesto as her aunt’s live-in caregiver, according to Atwood. Atwood said that her daughter struggled emotionally off and on over the death of her son, but that in recent months she had grown more despondent.

“I tried to get her counseling, but she said she wouldn’t do it or couldn’t do it,” Atwood said. “She seemed to be doing good. She was getting her life back on track, but it was a battle that she was having.”

Atwood said that early last year, Danley had been living in San Luis Obispo County and was in a relationship that Avery didn’t approve of. The issue created a rift between Crystal Danley and her son before his death, Atwood said.

Danley also has a 20-year-old daughter who lives in Oklahoma and a 14-year-old son who lives in the Modesto area with his father.

“Her son had been coming over to spend time with her on the weekends, which she really enjoyed,” Atwood said. “He would come over, and they’d go bowling on Friday nights. Something must have happened that really triggered her state of mind.”

Upset by argument

Atwood said that shortly before she left to visit a friend in San Francisco, Crystal Danley and another family member had an argument over money in Modesto. The family member wanted money to fix his car, but Danley didn’t have any to give and also said she wouldn’t try get it from her elderly aunt.

“Words were exchanged,” Atwood said. “I don’t know exactly what was said, but that really seemed to upset her.”

According to Danley’s close friend Laura Zuccolotto, Danley went to visit another friend in San Francisco, where she told her friend that she was thinking of going swimming and joining her son.

Her friend tried to talk her out of it, Zuccolotto said. But then Danley left suddenly at 4 a.m., driving in the direction of Ocean Beach in the Sunset District.

“The family has been conducting their own search efforts in that area yesterday and today,” Zuccolotto said.

Anyone with information about this case or the whereabouts of Crystal Danley should call the Modesto Police Department at 209-552-2470.

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