A Rice University student missing in Berkeley for eight months and later arrested on suspicion of thefts around UC Berkeley has flown home to Oklahoma after the Alameda County district attorney's office dropped all charges against him.
"I reviewed the matter, looked at the totality of situation, and declined to prosecute, in the interest of justice," charging district attorney Bob Hartman said Wednesday.
Matthew Wilson, 21, went missing in December from his Houston apartment during finals week at Rice University, where he was a computer science student.
In June, Wilson's car was found in Berkeley, prompting police, Wilson's mother, and Pleasanton-based Trinity Search & Recovery to begin organizing searches. Several attempts turned up nothing, and Wilson remained at large until he was arrested Aug. 13 in a UC Berkeley classroom, where authorities said he had stolen property and burglary tools.
"When you have an adult that voluntarily has gone missing, you always wonder: Is there a reason why they don't want to be found?" said Dr. Bridget Melson, co-founder of Trinity Search & Recovery. "You could have psychological issues, where he needs to be found and checked on and then left alone, or does he need to be helped and taken care of?"
Melson said every disappearance case is unique, but Wilson showed potential similarities to many runaways.
About 160,000 people go missing in California every year and nearly 80 percent are runaways — "people who wanted to be gone," Melson said. "They usually return home. But it's an astonishing number."
She cited family and mental health issues as major contributors to why young people flee from home, adding that such runaways are often found through arrests. She said she'd submitted DNA and fingerprint samples to authorities so they could confirm Wilson's identity if he hadn't been willing to identify himself.
"His mental health was a bit frail when they found him," she said. "That could have saved his life, getting arrested."