PITTSBURGH (KDKA)– What happened to Paul Kochu?
It’s a question his family says is still unanswered, nearly five years after his disappearance and death.
In early December 2014, Paul Kochu went home for a pre-holiday visit at his parents’ home in Bucktown, Chester County.
He’d planned to stay longer, but a snowstorm was coming and he had to get back to his new job as an ICU nurse at Allegheny General Hospital.
“I pushed him out of the house on Monday saying ‘you don’t want to get stuck in the snow in the mountains.’ If I would have known that was the last time I was going to see him, I never would have let him go”, says Paul’s mom Ellen Kochu.
While she and her husband, Jack, are approaching five years since the night Paul disappeared, the impact of the text message from one of Paul’s friends telling them that he was missing feels like it came in moments ago.
Ellen says, “I went kind of bananas because that would be something Paul would never do. He would never disappear or not tell anyone where he was going.”
Jack and Ellen rushed to Pittsburgh, only to be frustrated at every turn.
“The detective felt that a lot of kids that age like to blow off steam, that he might have gone to a friend’s house to cool down. And that’s just wasn’t Paul. Not Paul at all”, says Ellen.
They were told to wait and see if Paul showed up for his next shift at the hospital.
But Ellen says, “somehow inside of me, I don’t know how Jack felt, I knew he wasn’t going to show up for work. Something didn’t sit well with me from the get-go with that.”
Paul lived on Wharton Street on Pittsburgh’s South Side with two roommates.
Ellen says, “They basically said they didn’t know what happened to him.”
“There have been inconsistencies all along”, says Jack.
What has remained consistent is that Paul and his roommates were together drinking at Smokin’ Joe’s during a Monday Night Football game on December 15th, 2014.
At first, the roommates said they all left together.
Then a few days later, Jack and Ellen say they found out that Paul had actually left to go home before his roommates did.
The roommates told Jack and Ellen that Paul had cut his hand after he got home and called them to come home to help him stop the bleeding.
When they got there, the roommates said there was some sort of confrontation.
“They said they aren’t sure what part of Paul hit the wall, his elbow, his head or his shoulder, but that he had fallen”, says Ellen.
She also says she and Jack heard another story that perhaps Paul was pushed.
The roommates said they then left to get some food.
Police say surveillance video does show them at the McDonald’s on McKnight Road in Ross Township around the same time.
Ellen says, “and when they came back, Paul was gone.”
A security camera down the street from Paul’s home captured what his parents believe is the last image of him alive.
In the video, Paul is clearly having difficulty walking.
His mother says it appears to her that Paul was hurt, and not just stumbling because he was drunk.
No one knows what happened to Paul after that.
Search efforts over the weeks that followed were in vain.
There was simply no trace of him.
Police theorized that Paul ended up in the Monongahela River, somewhere between where he was last seen on Wharton Street and the 10th Street Bridge.
“That’s ridiculous. You can’t speculate on that kind of thing”, says Jack.
For weeks the Kochu family traveled to and from Pittsburgh, on an emotional roller coaster.
Paul’s sister, Jessica, eventually set up a tip line.
“The very first tip that came in was that a body had been found in Wheeling, and when I read that I knew immediately it was Paul”, says Ellen.
That was in mid-March of 2015, 94 days after Paul disappeared and 85 river miles downstream with several locks and dams and shallows in between.
Paul’s body was found nude.
In addition to the cut on his hand, he also had three fractured ribs, a one-inch wound on his scalp, and a blood-alcohol level of .15.
The West Virginia Medical Examiner ruled Paul’s death an undetermined freshwater drowning.
However, Jack and Ellen don’t buy that and never have.
“No. I believe if he did drown, it was not of falling into the water or jumping in to kill himself”, says Ellen.
“Nobody knows where he went in or how and why he went in or how”, says Jack.
Paul’s roommates reportedly took polygraph tests.
The Kochu’s were told one passed, and the other was inconclusive.
“No two stories ever since the beginning have ever been the same”, says Ellen.
“I just wish the police would have investigated further instead of coming to the conclusion that Paul was 22, had too much to drink at Smokin’ Joe’s and fell into the river. Case closed, next. That’s what it felt like to me”, says Jack.
KDKA reached out to Paul’s former roommates, but have not received a response.
We also reached out to Pittsburgh Police and the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office.
Both tell us they are not actively investigating the case, but are willing to look into any new information they receive.
There are also a lot of similarities between Paul Kochu’s case and the disappearance and death of another Pittsburgh man, Dakota James, in 2017.
Background on the James case here.
KDKA reached out to the investigators involved in the theory that James was killed as part of the so-called “Smiley Face Killers” ring.
They do not believe the Kochu case is connected.
However, Paul’s parents are not as convinced and say they will not rest until they know exactly what happened to their son.