Nearly five months after showing up in a San Diego-area emergency room without any recollection of her name, age, family, or friends, a woman who called herself “Sam” has finally rediscovered who she is.
Ashley Menatta, 53, never married and has sisters in Colorado and Maryland. She was born in Pennsylvania, lived in Flagstaff, Arizona, and several years ago found her way to Southern California, where she lived in La Jolla, Vista, and Carlsbad.
The woman’s plight captured attention worldwide after our NBC 7 post went viral with a Facebook reach of 21.2 million people as of Wednesday afternoon. Facebook users shared the post nearly 200,000 times, leading to thousands of tips and suggestions.
Menatta’s nephew watched the NBC 7 story online and immediately called his mom to tell her about the mystery woman: Aunt Ashley.
The FBI took the tip to Menatta and her friend Debbie Rough, her nurse from Tri City Medical Center in Oceanside, who championed the initial search for relatives. The phone call led to tears and details of her forgotten past.
“It was extremely emotional. We were all sobbing. They’re so sorry I had to go through what I did during this time without them,” said Menatta.
The FBI did not officially confirm Menatta's identity, but investigators felt comfortable with the information they've provided to help facilitate a reunion. Menatta's family did not provide independent verification of her identity.
Carlsbad firefighters responded to an emergency call on February 1 and found her in dire shape. Her blood pressure was so low, she was barely conscious. She couldn’t tell paramedics anything about herself.
Doctors at Tri City Medical Center diagnosed her with ovarian cancer, telling her the antibodies from the tumor possibly caused “retrograde amnesia."
Carlsbad police and the FBI got involved in an effort to help identify her. They said more pressing responsibilities kept them from devoting the many hours needed to solve the case.
Searches of their fingerprint database turned up empty.
“He [the FBI agent] said you must be a good girl, otherwise we’d have records of you,” said Menatta.
FBI agents posted Menatta’s picture and story to the Interpol website in an effort to attract global attention.
She spoke with an English/Australian accent and had vivid dreams about time spent in Perth.
"Apparently I have a long time of visiting Australia for extended trips. I’ve been going there throughout my life,” said Menatta. The family lost track of her in 2013, around the same time she showed up in Southern California and attended St. Patrick Catholic Church in Carlsbad.
The FBI said NBC 7’s Facebook post and subsequent stories generated numerous tips, which helped put the pieces of the puzzle together.
Menatta plans to fly back to Maryland and live with one of her older sisters.
“She was just telling me she has a four-bedroom, large house and a lovely king-size bed waiting for me."
Menatta thanks the millions of people around the world who watched her story and prayed and tried to help with leads and suggestions.
The story seems almost too remarkable to be true.
The FBI can’t confirm or deny the circumstances, but feels comfortable with the information they’ve provided to help facilitate a reunion.
Menatta’s close friends and the nurse who championed her story call her a genuine and sweet human being.
They believe she has the genuine faith in God which was the first thing she remembers feeling in the emergency room.
“I had peace where there should be none and I believed He would bring me back together with people that that were family and I trusted Him," she said.
Ashley Menatta will need to continue with chemotherapy to treat the aggressive cancer, but with family and faith she says “she knows where she is going” and now, finally, where she came from too.
Photo Credit: NBC 7, Family photo
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