Former child actor Joe Pichler, who appeared in two of the "Beethoven" dog-inspired comedies, has been missing for a week after leaving what police have characterized as a suicide note.
But family members, including Pichler's mother and oldest sister, say they don't believe the two pages of poetry and other musings the 18-year-old left in his car were a suicide note.
In a telephone interview Monday from her home in Bremerton, Pichler's mother, Kathy Pichler, said a detective told her, "I don't know how to say this to you without sounding really bad, but basically I think your son's dead and it could take months for him to show up in the water."
Bremerton Detective Robbie Davis disputed that claim, saying he told Kathy Pichler that state rules require that the department obtain dental records of any missing person who has not been found after 40 days.
Pichler's car was found Jan. 9 at an intersection above Port Madison Narrows. Inside it was a note in which he said he was sorry he hadn't been a better role model for his younger brother and asked that his belongings go to 17-year-old A.J.
Pichler's mother and 26-year-old sister, Shawna Woody, said police released the car to the family without fully processing it for evidence that might yield some clues to his disappearance.
"They haven't fingerprinted his car. They sifted through it. They were in his apartment for about three minutes. They've done nothing," Kathy Pichler said.
Davis said he believed crime scene investigators processed the car for fingerprints, but couldn't say for sure because he was the only one in the office Monday and did not have the investigators' report handy.
Kathy Pichler said the last outgoing call on her son's cellphone was placed at 4:30 a.m. on Jan. 5 to a friend who told her they had been drinking alcohol earlier that day and had written some poetry together.
"There was no goodbye," she said of the cryptic note.
A native of Bremerton, Pichler was in a commercial for a Seattle department store at age 6. He moved to Los Angeles and appeared in "The Fan" in 1996, "Varsity Blues" in 1999 and the third and fourth installments of the "Beethoven" series, featuring the humorous adventures of a St. Bernard, in 2000 and 2001.
In 2002, he had a leading role in the film "Children on Their Birthdays," a coming-of-age tale based on a short story by Truman Capote. His TV appearances included a part in "Touched by an Angel."
Pichler returned to Bremerton to live full-time in 2002 at the urging of his mother and graduated last year from Bremerton High, but he never lost his passion for acting, his family said.
"I just wanted him to have some normalcy in his life," Kathy Pichler told the Kitsap Sun. "He's a good boy and took it well, but he wasn't really happy about it."
Woody said she did not sense her brother had been despondent. She said he seemed eager to get back into acting as soon as his braces came off his teeth.
The second-youngest of five children, Joe Pichler lived across town from his parents, A.J. and 20-year-old sister Samantha.
Woody said she found it suspicious that the door to his apartment was unlocked and the lights were on — something a neighbor told her was not common for Pichler.
Davis said he has no reason to believe that Pichler was a victim of foul play. "I have not found one person that has said anything bad about Joe," Davis said.