Missing woman's family still hopeful

Shannan Gilbert's sister Sherre Gilbert in Ellenville home.

Shannan Gilbert's sister Sherre Gilbert in Ellenville home. (March 30, 2011) (Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy)

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ELLENVILLE, N.Y. -- The fact that the fifth set of human remains found near Gilgo Beach were not those of Shannan Gilbert gave her mother a glimmer of hope Thursday that the 24-year-old Jersey City woman could still be alive.

But Mari Gilbert, 46, also said her optimism is mixed with anxiety over where her eldest daughter could be after 11 months, and sympathy for the family of the fifth person whose remains were found since a search for Gilbert was launched in December.

"I was happy, of course, but I'm still sad," Mari Gilbert said Thursday in her upstate Ellenville home. "I'm sad because she's still missing and I'm sad for the girl's family, whoever she is."

Watching the investigation unfold from afar, the Gilbert family has experienced a series of emotional ups and downs.

They are hopeful that Shannan Gilbert will walk through the door -- and can cling to that dream as long as her body is not found. But they also harbor a nagging, uneasy feeling in not knowing her whereabouts.

At times, they said they resign themselves to the notion that Shannan Gilbert, who like the four other women whose remains have been identified, worked as a prostitute, is already dead.

She was last seen May 1 in Oak Beach.

"You prepare for the worse and then you find out it's not her," said Shannan's sister Sherre Gilbert, also of Ellenville. She got the call from a Suffolk detective telling her the remains found Tuesday did not belong to her sister. "How do you take it?"

Sherre Gilbert, 23, said the detective did not tell her how analysts had quickly determined that the fifth set of remains were not Gilbert's, but she speculated that the victim's dental profile did not match her sister's.

The latest victim has not yet been identified.

Mari Gilbert, who works a night shift at the Walmart in nearby Middletown, focuses on having positive thoughts and says she will continue to believe her daughter is alive until she hears otherwise.

She said she knows her daughter's habits, saying Shannan Gilbert would have called or sent a text message by now. In fact, she recalled, the two women were trying to coordinate Mother's Day plans when they last spoke.

"I hope that they'll find her alive but, if not, she has done a great thing," she said of her daughter. "She has helped other families find their babies."

Police said they will resume searching for Gilbert's body Monday.

"The very last thing I said to her was: 'I love you. Be safe,' " said Mari Gilbert. "And, she said, 'I am always safe, Mommy.' And that was the last time we talked."

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