Matthew Dale Bryan, who was often seen walking in downtown Sonora with his white Chihuahua, Little Man, was identified as the man found dead in the forest south of Gibbs cell phone tower on Saturday.
His mother, Donna Gibson, Tuesday described him as “a good person, a good man.”
“He had a heart of gold,” she said.
Gibson said her son struggled with addiction, ADHD and bipolar disorder, and fell victim to the toll of homelessness.
“He could have turned his life around and he would have been a very special person,” she said. “Matthew had a very loving family that tried to intervene, but he wasn’t willing to cope with the pain to pull his life together.”
As with many homeless people, Bryan had minor brushes with the law. Misdemeanors related to life on the streets.
His mother said he always sought to help others in need.
“If he had more than one of something, he would give it to someone who needed it.”
The cause of death has not been determined, said Lt. David Vasquez with the Sheriff’s Office.
Foul play was unlikely, but the Sheriff’s Office was still awaiting a complete autopsy with a toxicology report and a review of physical injury.
Gibson said deputies believe Bryan died of natural causes.
Bryan was found in an open, wooded area by someone who also may be homeless, Vasquez said.
Vasquez was unsure if the person who found the body had been contacted by Sheriff’s Office investigators, but homeless people in the area were interviewed, he added.
Deputies searched the area between Golden Dove Lane in Jamestown and Rough and Ready Road in Sonora Friday night after receiving the report, but did not locate the body. The body was found after daybreak Saturday morning.
The area is less than a square mile in size and is north of Highway 49, west of Sonora and east of Jamestown Road. Several foot trails wind by trees such as pines, oaks and cedars, manzanita bushes and shrubs.
Vasquez said he did not know the date or time of death.
Bryan was reported missing to the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office on Dec. 10.
Gibson said he would call her every five to six days to check-in, but she reported him missing when she didn’t hear from him for a week.
Bryan was born at Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock on April 4, 1973. He grew up throughout the Central Valley and Modesto.
Gibson said he struggled in school and never completed high school.
Bryan moved in with his mother in Sonora from Albuquerque, New Mexico, two years ago, but left after a few months.
Bryan was unfailing in his affection for his great-nephew, his niece Alexis McDonald said.
Every Christmas, he would visit thrift stores to make sure that he had a gift.
“That’s the kind of person he was,” she said.
Gibson said Bryan got Little Man because he was lonely.
“He helped him through hard times,” she said. He had told her he was accused of being cruel to the dog but she didn’t believe that was true.
Not too long ago, Bryan told her he couldn’t keep him.
“He told me, ‘I’m barely taking care of myself, it’s not fair for him to be out here,’” Gibson said.
In September, Bryan met a couple outside the Gold Lodge in Sonora who said they had a yard and a fence, and would take in Little Man. He reluctantly gave them the dog, his mother said.
The family plans to hold a memorial service at Christian Heights Church in Sonora. A public candlelight vigil is also planned in Courthouse Square in the next weeks.
Gibson hopes her son’s story will cause people to see the hardships of people living on the streets and perhaps want to help. That people will realize sometimes they don’t survive it.