HUDSON — A week ago, Adam Matos showed up at the Get Hooked Grill, where he had worked as a dishwasher. Fired a few days earlier, he told a manager that he needed his last paycheck.
Then he vanished.
On Thursday, Pasco investigators went looking for Matos' 4-year-old son, Ismael "Tristan" Santisteban, who is autistic. What they found was carnage — four people dead on a hill — but no trace of the boy.
Matos, 28, quickly became the focus of the grisly mystery, with Pasco sheriff's officials calling him armed and dangerous. They think Tristan may be with him — but they don't know for sure. Matos was seen in the area as recently as Wednesday without the boy.
"This is a critical case because we're missing a little child," Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said.
Looking directly into TV cameras Thursday night, he pleaded with Matos: "If you're watching this, please just let the Sheriff's Office have Tristan."
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The boy was last seen Aug. 28 at his home at 7719 Hatteras Drive, a beige two-story with large white columns at the entrance that sits along a palm-tree-lined street not far from the gulf.
According to Nocco, deputies went to the house that day after Tristan's mother claimed Matos threatened her with a knife. He was gone when they arrived.
They are still trying to figure out if Matos is Tristan's biological father or a father figure.
"Adam probably did at one point consider Tristan his son," Nocco said. "He cared about him."
Neighbor Andrew Coulstring said he was sitting outside about a week ago when he heard a woman screaming.
"It sounded like a woman in pain, like she had gotten hurt," Coulstring, 28, told Bay News 9.
He heard a second woman shouting, "Are you hurt? Are you okay?"
Coulstring said he and his mother tried but failed to find the source of the commotion. But he said he now wishes he had called 911.
• • •
On Thursday morning, someone called authorities after being unable to reach anyone living at the house. Deputies found "obvious signs that something bad had happened in that house," Nocco said.
As the investigation unfolded, investigators noticed birds circling over the neighborhood less than a mile away. They followed a powerful stench and found the bodies "piled up on each other." No identities were released.
Nocco did not name Matos a suspect in the murders. He also said the killings were not a random act.
He said sheriff's investigators, along with the FBI, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and other agencies, were searching bars, homeless camps and neighborhoods for Matos. Today, they plan to use police dogs and the mounted posse to comb woods for him and the boy. Because of the recent sighting, and numerous news tips, deputies believe he may be still be in the area.
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Matos has no criminal record in Florida, according to FDLE. Nocco said he moved to Florida from Orefield, Pa., in July.
According to Pennsylvania court records, Matos had several encounters with law enforcement. In 2006, he was found guilty of purchasing alcoholic beverages as a minor. In 2007, he pleaded no contest to simple assault, theft, receiving stolen property and trespassing. He pleaded guilty to retail theft in 2008.
He pleaded guilty to a DUI in February of 2010 and also to harassment later that year.
Nocco said his investigators have been in contact with family members of the boy in Florida and with relatives of the deceased in California and Pennsylvania. They are also working with the Pennsylvania State Police and "numerous other law enforcement agencies."
John Logan, the front of house manager at Get Hooked Grill in Hudson, said Matos was hired in mid-August as a dishwasher.
"He was a clean-cut, nice guy," Logan said.
But after about a week and a half, Matos failed to show up for a shift. Two hours in, he called and said he had a family emergency.
Times researchers Carolyn Edds and Caryn Baird contributed to this report.