Patricia Kopta was a well-known person in Pennsylvania’s Ross Township. The 52-year-old, who went by “The Sparrow” in the community, enjoyed walking the streets of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Ross Township, pleading with passersby to pay attention to her divine messages. She told everyone she passed on the street about her visions, believing herself to have been visited by the Virgin Mary. Then, one summer day in 1992, Patricia was just gone.
On November 27, 1992, her 20-year spouse, Robert Kopta, reported her mi*ssing to the Ross Township Police. He was concerned for her safety even though he accepted that she had some mental health problems and had expressed a desire to travel to a warmer place. A few months prior, she had been beaten and robbed while preaching in Pittsburgh; following this ordeal, she became convinced that she was being pursued and would eventually die as a martyr.
Before Patricia disappeared, Robert noticed that she had become irritated with him and other family members. She became irate with me and her sister for attempting to convince her to visit the hospital for foot care. She walked so much that her feet were in terrible condition. It was depressing.
While Elaine Swartzlander, Patricia’s twin sister, didn’t always agree with her nomadic way of life, she did her best to keep Patricia warm and safe. She purchased her warm hats and gloves, which she would frequently replace when Patricia would misplace them. “I assumed that whatever her world may be, I would let her enjoy it.”
It wasn’t completely out of character for Patricia to disappear for a while, given her diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, but she always returned. Patricia’s family thought she had taken a plane to Puerto Rico, but after hearing about her being spotted at the Pittsburgh airport a few weeks later, they decided she had come back to the area. If she had, though, she never did communicate with any of her family members.
Robert was always waiting for the phone to ring, alerting him to Patricia’s latest sightings at street corners or malls, where she was once again spreading her message. But the call never arrived, and the months stretched into years. Patricia had not been seen, despite Robert’s efforts to advertise her miss*ing person flyers and local newspaper ads while he was in Puerto Rico.
The family was having a hard time waiting. Elaine remembered, “I used to get really scared every time the police found a body in the river when she first went mis*sing.” In fact, I still do.
Sgt. Frank Zotter of Ross Township Police acknowledged that Patricia’s disappearance was puzzling five years after she went mis*sing. She tried to share her vision with people every day while she was out in public. She was there, come rain, shine, or snow. Then, poof, she vanished out of nowhere. I simply feel uneasy about it.
Sgt. Zotter searched for Patricia’s whereabouts for years. Nothing located the mi*ssing street preacher, even though he checked her credit history and would periodically check her Social Security number for activity. He was certain she was dead by 1997. “Since July 1992, there has been no activity whatsoever in her name, on credit cards, in banks, or anywhere else.” He gave the case to the homicide detectives in Allegheny County, but they were not given much information, and the investigation quickly stagnated.
Up until March 2023, when investigators declared that Patricia had been located residing in Puerto Rico, her whereabouts remained unknown. Up until 1999, when it was decided she couldn’t take care of herself, she appeared to have lived there alone. After that, she was put in a nursing home. Since then, she has resided there and has given very little information about her past.
After Patricia, who is 83 years old and suffering from dementia, gave out a few hints over the years about who she really was, someone eventually discovered that Patricia had been reported missing from Pennsylvania decades before. Brian Kohlhepp, the deputy police chief for Ross Township, states that “they were able to connect enough dots because she leaked enough details about her identity.” The woman’s identity as Patricia Kopta was verified by a DNA test.
The family was naturally shocked to hear the news because it was something they had never expected to hear. Gloria Smith, Patricia’s sister, had always been afraid of the worst. It was difficult for all of us because I, my mother, and her sister were always concerned about her.The fact that Patty is still alive and well makes us very happy.
Robert never got married again and he never lost sight of Patricia. “I’m relieved she was discovered and that I’m no longer a suspect. Though she was free to return home at any moment, this was her desire.