For Gilbert family, Shannan's story isn't over

Shannan Gilbert (right) with her family in 2009. Shannan Gilbert (right) with her family in 2009. Photo Credit: Handout

advertisement | advertise on newsday

ELLENVILLE -- The confirmation that human remains found on Oak Beach are those of her older sister answered one question for Sarra Gilbert, but left many more.

"I don't think this story is over," Gilbert, 22, said Sunday at her upstate Ellenville home, echoing a sentiment shared by other family members -- that Shannan Gilbert, 24, disappeared and died as the result of foul play.

On Saturday, Suffolk County police announced that the medical examiner positively identified the remains found last week in thick underbrush as those of Shannan Gilbert. No cause of death for Gilbert, a Jersey City woman who worked as a prostitute, had been determined as of Sunday night.

Suffolk County police Commissioner Richard Dormer has said he believes she accidentally drowned as she fled the Oak Beach home of a client in May 2010.

But evidence from the investigation -- including the 911 call a distraught Gilbert made the night of her disappearance and her purse, identification, jeans, shoes and cellphone found away from her remains -- warrant a second look, Sarra Gilbert said.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"I want the autopsy to come back to prove people wrong," Gilbert said, growing tearful as she tried to imagine her sister's last moments.

"Hopefully, she passed quickly and didn't go through any pain," she said. "Hopefully, she went peacefully."

Shannan Gilbert was too strong and too smart to have waded into her death, family members in Ellenville said.

Her mother, Mari Gilbert Sunday was too distressed to speak publicly about the confirmation of her daughter's death. Another sister, Sherre, also did not want to talk to reporters.

"Everyone's pretty much trying to be strong until we get all the answers," Sarra Gilbert said. "We can't even bury her until they finish the autopsy."

The search for Gilbert yielded the December 2010 discovery of the bodies of four other women who police said also worked as prostitutes. They were Amber Lynn Costello, 27, of North Babylon; Melissa Barthelemy, 24, of the Bronx; Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 24, of Norwich, Conn., and Megan Waterman, 22, of Scarborough, Maine.

Earlier this year, six additional bodies, including that of a toddler, were found in the area. While five are unidentified, the sixth was found to be Jessica Taylor, 20, of New York City. Part of Taylor's remains were found in Manorville in 2003.

Police have said they believe the 10 were victims of a serial killer who is still at large.

Sarra Gilbert said the family did not expect to have Shannan's body back from the medical examiner's office in time for Christmas, but had begun to discuss where she might be buried. A family cemetery in Pennsylvania was one possibility.

She braced herself for another Christmas without her sister. Christmas decorations that Mari Gilbert hung on the front porch earlier this month in memory of her daughter -- including a sign that reads "All I want for Christmas is you" -- served as a reminder.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"It's harder this year," Sarra Gilbert said, "because now we know for sure that she's gone."

The best of Newsday everyday in your inbox. Get the Newsday Now newsletter!

You also may be interested in: