Photos by Association President John Hawkins and courtesy the Mertlich family
or decades, Jessica Mertlich yearned for news of the only brother she ever had. Growing up in Utah, she remembers her older brother, Robert “Troy” Mertlich, as always making her feel seen and heard.
She was eight when he left home, never to return. “He left without a trace,” Jes remembers, although he would call collect once a year or so until the family ultimately lost touch. Troy’s mother, Sheri, last spoke to him in 2012 after the death of Troy’s father.
But for nearly 30 years, Jes and the Mertlich family never stopped looking for him. In 2020, they received a letter from the LA County Coroner that Troy had passed away of a drug overdose on the streets of Los Angeles. He was shelterless at the time.
His remains, in an urn, were shipped back to the family. That could have been the end of the story. But it wasn’t. Even after the news of his passing, Jes never stopped looking for what had happened to him – trying to find any stories, photos, anything that could give her closure. She still yearned for her big brother Troy.
One More Search
After a decade of doing Google searches for him, one day this past November, the search algorithms hit just the right moment. She found him mentioned in Alive!’s “People We See” number 70, published back in January 2015.
She remembers: “On Nov. 21, 2022, I caught a glimpse of my brother’s urn on my way to bed and I began to feel overcome by a desperate need to see his face just one last time, even two years after we got the news that he had died. I felt a sudden urge to do a search for him online again, which I thankfully followed. I whipped out my phone and typed ‘Troy Mertlich’ into the search engine, expecting the same results I’ve always gotten – nothing. For reasons I don’t understand, [Google] was on my side that night (or just maybe my brother in spirit).”
Her search found a letter to the editor that Alive! published a month after the original “People We See” was printed in 2015. “If it wasn’t for [the letter writer] using Troy’s name I would not have found the article, and I’m so grateful that it did,” she said. “I immediately reached out to Alive!”
“We were stunned to receive Jes’ email,” said Employees Association CEO John Hawkins, the author of the more than 100 “People We See” interviews. John had interviewed Troy for the original article in 2015 and remembered him. “Hi Jes,” John Hawkins wrote in response to Jes’ inquiry. “First, I am so sorry to hear about the passing of your brother; that always saddens me.
“Secondly, we had some luck in finding the actual article. I have done about 100 or so of these interviews, and I distinctly remember interviewing Troy. He talked about your parents and his upbringing. It’s very rare for someone living on the street to be complimentary about their parents, yet he talked quite a bit about how much they loved each other and how good they were to the family growing up. He also talked quite a bit about what a good upbringing he had, a happy upbringing, and had only good things to say about his siblings. When he talked about you and his parents he really lit up with warm, positive energy. I’ll never forget it.
“I am glad I could play a part in your search for more information on your brother.”
‘I’m so grateful I got to see him again, just one last time.’
— Jes Mertlich, Sister of Troy Mertlich
The Club sent a copy of the interview to Jes. After seeing Troy’s photos after his being away for 28 years, she remembers, “This was an amazing birthday gift! As someone who thought she’d never visually ‘see’ her brother again, I feel incredibly lucky to have photos to remember him by.
“While Troy looked very different, being 28 years older than when I saw him last, I immediately knew it was him,” Jes continues. “I was filled with a wild combination of excitement, love, compassion and tranquility. I wasn’t expecting happy photos since the homeless are rarely depicted in that manner in media, but I’m so grateful that’s how I got to see him again, just one last time.”
The Club honors the Mertlich family for never giving up on finding out what happened to their brother, Troy, and for letting Alive! tell their story. We wish them peace and understanding.
Growing Up With Troy
After finding the Alive! article on her brother, Troy Mertlich, his sister, Jes, reached out to her family for their memories of Troy, and she passed those memories along to us. (Their father has passed away.) Truly, no one is ever forgotten.
Michelle Perry, Sister
Troy grew up in a family of six. He was the oldest of four children and the only boy. He had curly Kirk Cameron hair that blended in nicely growing up in the 1980s.
He loved all animals and had many – he was surrounded by a dog, hundreds of fish and exotic birds. One of the parrots would scream his name frequently throughout the day, especially when he wanted to eat. He loved cats but was highly allergic. That didn’t stop him from rescuing two kittens and hiding them in his room. It was several weeks before his secret was discovered.
Troy was very fortunate to grow up with a large family garden and five-course homemade meals almost every night. Because of this, he loved to cook and would create delicious meals. The oldest sister still makes one of his knock-off ramen dishes to this day.
His parents had more hobbies than most people. Pottery, jewelry making, baking, canning every food imaginable, and painting are just a few. His father loved the outdoors. He took the entire family out on many adventures like rock hounding, exploring the desert, fishing, and hiking in remote areas. His mother was an excellent baker and painter. This may be where Troy obtained his talent for art. He was excellent at drawing. Had his path been different, he would’ve made an extraordinary graphic designer, architect or something of the like.
My family – we’re just nice people. We’re givers. Troy had a gentle heart and tried to be kind to everyone. One summer, he even worked in a care center for adults and children with all sorts of disabilities – mental and physical.
Unfortunately, living in a neighborhood of bullies (adults and children), he suffered from loneliness and low self-esteem. One neighbor, a troublemaker, led him down the path of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This life also included drugs.
It’s unknown what prompted Troy to be homeless. His family, especially his sisters, would’ve taken him in, in a heartbeat.
I thought he was dead because he left everything – everything that was near and dear to his heart – in his room. He left things that I’d never in a million years think he ever would have left. Wouldn’t you at least take one or two of your prized possessions? He took nothing with him. I actually thought he was killed. You never want anybody to be hurt.
After years of us not knowing if he were dead or alive, he finally called his mom. She was very relieved yet sad about his choices. His oldest sister never talked to him again after he left. His two younger sisters were fortunate enough to be at his parent’s home when he would randomly call a few times a year. His father died in 2011. Due to his mom’s poor health, she moved in 2012, and Troy was no longer heard from again. His mother, who last talked to him in 2012, tried to stay in contact with specific law enforcement to keep tabs on him. In November 2020, his family was notified that he had passed away due to a drug overdose. He was found on the streets by a security guard. Troy was 49. We were all saddened but somewhat relieved. The path he had chosen was a hard one. We know he is now receiving all the love he gave to everyone, including all his sweet animals.
I had not talked to Troy in my whole adult life; he left the summer after I got married, at 20. But one time I was visiting Los Angeles on vacation. We were driving past Dodger Stadium. At that moment I felt this strong energy that told me, “Troy is here.” And sure enough, within the week, he called my mom and told her he was staying right where we had just passed. If only we had known.
Jes Mertlich, Sister
I was eight years old when I last saw my brother, so I may not remember as many personal stories as the rest of my family. But I do remember how he made me feel seen, heard and loved. He never made me feel left out.
He inspired my love for music at a very young age (starting with the piano and eventually a little guitar). He played the guitar and was in bands. I wrote my very first song on the piano about my brother at age 9 or 10. He also let me play “Sonic the Hedgehog” on his Sega, and let me pretend I knew what I was doing on his electric guitar. He also bought the best gifts and got me one of my favorites, Hawaiian Barbie.
I absolutely remember his love for animals and insects. He kept a pet black widow at one point.
He was bullied a lot, but I didn’t know about that much because of our age difference. I’ve heard some truly horrific stories. He would get stabbed with a pencil when getting on his school bus, and other times the neighborhood kids would shoot BBs at him from their tree houses. It was beyond mean.
Troy was such a gentle soul. I thought he was the coolest. He was such a skilled artist as well and I kept his sketchbooks up until I moved out to go to college. He always smelled of Patchouli. I can also tell he was in love with working at the cat sanctuary he mentioned in your article. He spoke about that often when he called.
Sheri Mertlich, Mom
Troy talked very well and very young. The doctors were so impressed with Troy that they ran tests on him. Afterwards they said he was highly intelligent and could become anything he wanted.
Another time when we were staying a weekend at a cabin, Troy caught his first fish in the stream, a big trout! He was so excited. I took several pictures of him with his trout. I’m not sure if he ate any of it, but he was so excited and happy!
Amy Mertlich, Sister
Michelle wrote a lot of my same thoughts in her blurb about Troy! Other than those, my memories are about his love of music, playing board games and taking stuff apart to see how it worked or to see if he could fix it. He took apart our very first computer months after getting it. He also fixed a bunch of tech equipment for one of the public libraries while doing community service hours. They rewarded him for that by decreasing his hours he needed to serve because they were so impressed and appreciative to have working equipment again. I remember the smile he had on his face that day or anytime you brought up that library!