Family members of two murdered women found near Gilgo Beach last December held on to each other as Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer announced that human remains, most likely those of missing New Jersey woman Shannan Gilbert, were found Tuesday morning, exactly one year to the day the bodies of Megan Waterman, Maureen Brainard-Barnes and Amber Lynn Costello were discovered.
Megan Waterman’s mother Lorraine Ela and Maureen Brainard-Barnes’ sister Melissa Cann, visiting Long Island to mark the one-year anniversary, had just finished putting crosses at the sites where each of the four women were found and were about to have breakfast when they heard there was an update on the search for Gilbert.
“God told us to be here today,” said Ela, looking up at the sky.
She and Cann rushed over to Oak Beach and gasped at the announcement.
“After an exhaustive, methodical, massive search we have this day at approximately 9:14 a.m. located skeletal remains we believe at this time belong to missing Shannan Gilbert,” Dormer told a crowd of reporters. “Her location is indicative of her trying to make it to the causeway.”
Dormer said detectives found the remains in the marsh just off the Ocean Parkway roadway, about 1/4 mile northeast from where Gilbert’s pocketbook, jeans, shoes and lip gloss were found last week. When he added that investigators still believe Gilbert’s death was an accidental drowning, the victims’ family members yelled out, “She was murdered” and “It’s the same person, don’t let them kid you.”
Dormer said investigators believe the 24-year-old Jersey City woman ran into the marsh after she and a client argued, got stuck in the quicksand-like area and drowned. They do not believe she was killed by the suspected serial killer.
At the time of her disappearance, Gilbert, unfamiliar with the area, was running alongside the tall reeds that line Anchor Way. In the darkness, she would not have been able to see that those reeds were hiding flooded marsh that, at times, can be filled waist-deep with water. But Gilbert’s family says Shannan was running away from someone in the darkness and her death could not have been an accident.
“We don’t buy the whole theory that she ‘accidentally drowned,’ Gilbert’s family posted Friday on the Praying for Shannan Maria Gilbert Facebook page. Having been notified of this morning’s discovery, Gilbert’s family was en route to Oak Beach, during Dormer’s public announcement. “Why after a year and a half of searching, they finally find some of her items?”
When Gilbert’s mother Mari arrived later at Oak Beach, she told reporters, “Until I hear positive confirmation that it’s my daughter, I’m not going to believe it. Not until I know for sure.”
Inspector Stuart Cameron of the Suffolk County K-9 unit said the marshland that borders Anchor Way in Oak Beach, the road where Gilbert was last seen running on the night of May 1, 2010 had been searched before but the land is very wet and sinks as it is walked on, making it extremely difficult to search. Cameron also said parts of the area had also been covered by water during previous searches and couldn’t be searched thoroughly.
But Ela and Cann say Gilbert’s death was no accident.
“How did Shannan get in that brush with only a shirt and bra on?” said Ela. “Who took her pants off and left her in Oak Beach? She was murdered. She did not accidentally drown. Someone took her out of there and put her on the side of the road.”
But while both Ela and Cann disagree with investigators’ current theory on Gilbert’s death, they were extremely thankful for the work police have done and went around thanking officers individually. The officers reassured them they would continue to do the best they could to find their loved ones’ killer.
“This is still an active, ongoing investigation,” Dormer told Cann as he was leaving. “And that is going to continue, that I promise you. God bless you.”
Ela says that while she wasn’t happy with the investigation when her daughter first disappeared in June 2010, she believes police are doing everything they can to find her daughter’s killer now.
“This is a huge case,” said Ela. “They’ve never had a case like this. In the beginning, when they first came across all the bodies, I’m sure their first words were ‘Where do we begin?’”
Cann added, “They are doing the best that they can. It’s a hard investigation and no matter what, they’re the department that’s going to find the girls’ killer, not us, not the media…the police. So, they need to feel appreciated and they are…they are very appreciated.”
Searchers were looking for Gilbert when they found the body of 24-year-old Melissa Barthelemy, the first of the 10 women discovered in Gilgo Beach one year ago Sunday. Gilbert had remained missing for more than a year and a half. The Suffolk County Medical Examiner is working to positively identify the remains found today as Gilbert’s.
Oak Beach resident Gus Colletti, the last known person to see Gilbert alive the night she disappeared came down to hear the news. When Ela saw him she ran across the parking lot to hug him.
“I’m hoping [the remains are Shannan's] so Shannan can actually come home to be with her family,” Ela told reporters. “I don’t care what anyone says that she is not connected to these girls. She is and always will be.”
Those with information can call Homicide Squad detectives at 631-852-6396, call Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-220-8477, text tips anonymously by texting “SCPD” to “CRIMES” (274637) or email information via www.tipsubmit.com
There is a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case, the highest sum ever offered in Suffolk County history.