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Families, Cops Sharply Disagree On Cause Of Death In Case Of Gilgo/Oak Beach Remains

OAK BEACH, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- There has been a major discovery in the Long Island serial killer investigation. Investigators believe they have found the remains of missing prostitute Shannan Gilbert, whose disappearance led to a series of grisly discoveries.

After meeting with detectives on Tuesday Gilbert's weeping mother was escorted to the scene at Oak Beach where she fell into the arms of other victims' families, reports CBS 2's Jennifer McLogan.

"If they started the search earlier and continued it longer than they did the first time, they would have found her sooner and this case would be so much farther ahead," Mari Gilbert said.

The stunning announcement of the discovery of remains believed to be Shannan Gilbert's came, ironically, on the one-year anniversary of finding the bodies of multiple sex workers wrapped in burlap at Gilgo Beach.

"Before this sick bastard is caught they are going to find more bodies out here in these woods," victim's mother Lorraine Ela said.

The remains of 10 people have been found, but to date only five have been identified. However, they may have gone missing forever, if not for Shannan Gilbert's disappearance and an unprecedented search to find her. Last week, her cell phone, purse, jeans, shoes and lip gloss were found.

WCBS 880's Sophia Hall reports: Police Believe Search For Shannan Is Over


Then on Tuesday investigators found skeletal remains.

"The homicide squad with members of DPW were on an amphibious machine edging forward into thick brush when homicide detectives spotted the skeletal remains lying on the surface of the ground," Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said. "The body was found approximately one-quarter mile northeast from where her personal belongings were located last week."

"We're obviously very glad that we found what we believe to be Shannan Gilbert," Dormer told WCBS 880's Sophia Hall. "But it's certainly a sad day for the Gilbert family and our condolences to that family on the death of their daughter."

Dormer said everything still points to Gilbert apparently being trapped and not murdered.  He said if the body is Gilbert's then "her location is indicative of her trying to make it to the causeway." He added that the terrain would have made it impossible for Gilbert to reach the parkway.

Not everyone, however, accepts that she died accidentally.

"It was murder. I don't care what anybody says, this was murder," said Ela, whose daughter, Megan Waterman, was among the 10 victims found dumped along Ocean Parkway.

Melissa Cann
Melissa Cann puts up a cross for her sister Maureen Barnes along Ocean Parkway onDec. 13, 2011 (credit: Mona Rivera/1010 WINS)

Mari Gilbert also took the news of the discovery very hard. The family said until the autopsy is in, the remains are identified and cause of death is confirmed as accidental, they will remain unconvinced.

"Until I hear positive confirmation that it is my daughter, I'm going to believe it's not until I know for sure," she told reporters, including 1010 WINS' Mona Rivera.

The man who saw her running that night and called 911 has questions, too

"Did she drown or was she murdered?" Gus Colleti told CBS 2's McLogan.

Dormer said a medical examiner will definitively determine if the remains do in fact belong to Gilbert and an exact cause of death.

Gilbert was last seen running and screaming for help in Oak Beach in May 2010. It was while searching for Gilbert on Dec. 11, 2010 when police found the first set of human remains along Ocean Parkway.

1010 WINS' Mona Rivera reports: Police Say Everything Points To An Accidental Death


By April of 2011, police had discovered the 10 sets of remains on Gilgo Beach, all found about seven miles apart along Ocean  Parkway.

More: Map And Timeline Of Investigation

Tuesday morning, family members laid crosses at the crime scene along Ocean Parkway.

1010 WINS' Mona Rivera reports: Families Of Gilgo Beach Victims Remember Loved Ones 


Police have said the remains belong to eight women, a man and a toddler. At least five of the victims were prostitutes, including Maureen Barnes, Melissa Barthemay,  Amber Lynn Costello and Megan Waterman The four women are the only ones police have positively identified.

For the people left behind, the pain is overwhelming.

"It's something that you really can't explain. It's so hurtful, so painful," Melissa Cann, sister of Barnes, told CBS 2's Sean Hennessey at a vigil on Tuesday night.

"My life will never be the same. My holidays ... I don't have holidays anymore. And it's sad," Ela added.

"It hurts," Mari Gilbert said. "Shannan was a wonderful daughter. She was thoughtful, she was giving, she was caring."

WCBS 880 Long Island Bureau Chief Mike Xirinachs With Reaction From Area Residents


Dormer has said he believes a single serial killer is likely responsible for the murders of all 10 victims, but said detectives now believe Gilbert likely fell into the marsh and drowned and that her disappearance is not connected to the serial killer case.

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