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By Breeana Greenberg

The body of 44-year-old Dana Point resident Orion Adrian Gardner was found in Costa Mesa earlier this week, concluding an 18-day search by law enforcement, authorities announced Thursday, Aug. 11.

Gardner, a JSerra Catholic High School science teacher and San Clemente High alumnus, was reported missing on July 21, with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department issuing a critical missing person alert. Gardner left his Dana Point home in the early morning of July 20 in a black shirt, black pants, black shoes and black-rimmed glasses.

A transient in Costa Mesa was collecting cans and other recyclables behind a doggy daycare center on Bristol Street when he noticed the body on Sunday morning, Aug. 7, according to California Highway Patrol.

The body was initially reported to Costa Mesa Police, said California Highway Patrol Officer Anselmo Templado.

“Coroners were called, and in their initial assessment, they determined that the body had been deceased for about nine to 12 days based on decomposition,” Templado said. “There was no evidence of any type of trauma or any self-inflicted injuries.”

The case was taken over by California Highway Patrol Santa Ana because Gardner’s body was discovered on state property, OCSD spokesperson Sgt. Todd Hylton said.

A death investigation is currently underway, pending an autopsy and toxicology report, Templado said.

OCSD’s Dana Point Police Services posted a Twitter update on Thursday announcing the positive identification, writing, “the Department sends its deepest condolences to the Gardner family.”

Gardner loved surfing and watersports, his sister Michaela Gardner said to Dana Point Times on Friday, Aug. 12.

“He swam the channel between Dana Point and Catalina and was just completely immersed in ocean culture,” Michaela Gardner said. “He had a huge following in the community and friends within San Clemente, Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano.”

“He was an artist, a painter, as well, like landscapes and ocean wave scenes, things like that,” she continued.

During the weeks that Gardner was missing, the family’s worst fear, she said, was finding him dead.

“I just didn’t want to give up, dead or alive, I was like, ‘I’ve got to find my brother,’” Michaela Gardner said.

Gardner is survived by his wife and 3-year-old daughter.

The family is currently arranging a memorial for Gardner that will be open to the community.

In an emailed statement on Friday, Patrick Reidy, vice president of Mission and Faith, said the news of Gardner’s death has been devastating for the JSerra community.

Gardner, a founding member of the JSerra faculty, “was one of our most beloved teachers during his long tenure with us. Even after he moved on from JSerra, he continued to maintain close friendships with many of our staff,” Reidy said in the email. “Our hearts go out to his family and loved ones—we cannot imagine how difficult this must be for them.”

Breeana Greenberg

Breeana Greenberg is the city reporter for the Dana Point Times. She graduated from Chapman University with a bachelor of arts degree in English. Before joining Picket Fence Media, she worked as a freelance reporter with the Laguna Beach Independent. Breeana can be reached by email at bgreenberg@picketfencemedia.com

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