A diver who first spotted a plastic drum floating in the Marina area in Chula Vista said it had a hazard tag and a wire line attached to it, prompting him to call Harbor police.
The diver, whom NBC 7 is not identifying, said his only concern at the time was that the barrel could be a navigational hazard, which was why he notified police.
It was much later that police made the gruesome discovery after pulling it to shore--the barrel contained human remains.
According to the San Diego County Medical Examiner's office, the body is "badly decomposed" and it could take some time before they have an identification.
The body was found inside a plastic drum floating in the Marina in Chula Vista Thursday afternoon. The area is just off J Street and Marina Parkway.
Around 10:30 a.m., Harbor police received a call about a hazard threat floating in the water. Officers were dispatched to the Marina area but did not find anything.
The diver said he went out again around 11 a.m., located the barrel when the tide was out and contacted police.
At the time, he did not know what was inside the barrel and only wanted to report it because it could be a hazard, the diver told NBC 7.
The barrel appeared to be tied down with some cement blocks. Police believe a metal chain may have also weighed it down before it broke loose and surfaced at the Marina.
The news of the gruesome discovery stunned many boaters and residents in the area.
"It’s just a horrid thing. It's heinous and what the individual had to go through and then to be stuffed into a barrel as your final resting place at the bottom of a bay--it's just, the thought that goes through my mind, it's just a head-shaking event for sure," said Dean Rosser, a boat owner.
Chula Vista resident Bill Graham said he was shocked when he learned of the body because the area is usually safe.
"I've been putting my boat in here for 15 years and this is usually a pretty good Marina as far as anything goes, the same across the way there," said Bill Graham.
Police said there is no rust on the barrel and it appears to be only a few days old.