Loved ones of Gilgo victims thank police

Two relatives of women whose bodies were found in Gilgo Beach visited the area Monday morning and offered their thanks to Suffolk County police. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (Dec. 12, 2011)

Suffolk police ended a fifth day of looking for Shannan Gilbert in the marshes of Oak Beach Monday without success but planned to return Tuesday.

As the search goes on, relatives of Gilgo Beach serial murder victims scheduled a candlelight vigil Tuesday to mark the first anniversary of the discovery of the first four sets of remains. That find occurred during a fruitless search last December for Gilbert.

Family members from Maine and Connecticut arrived near the Oak Beach search site Monday morning and thanked Suffolk police for their efforts.

Lorraine Waterman Ela, mother of Megan Waterman, and Melissa Cann, sister of Maureen Brainard-Barnes, walked to the entrance of the Oak Beach community where officers are searching for Gilbert.

Gilbert's disappearance has not been linked to the 10 sets of human remains found to date, who are thought to be victims of a serial killer. Police say they believe Gilbert, who worked as a prostitute, died accidentally after fleeing a house where she met with a client.

"They have a hard investigation and they are the ones trying to catch the person that killed our family members and I really appreciate it," Cann told a Suffolk police officer. "Don't ever feel like our families don't appreciate it."

"We just want to thank them for everything they've done," said Waterman Ela, who lives in Maine.

Later, she added, "I hope to get the word out -- whoever knows what happened to please come forward before this man hurts somebody else."

Vigil planned

The families are planning a vigil Tuesday from 2 to 5 p.m. near the site where the bodies were found. A benefit fundraiser is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Behind Bars, on Merrick Road in Wantagh, to raise money to help the families defray the costs of traveling to Long Island as they follow the investigation.

Waterman Ela, 44, and Cann, 27, said that at the vigil they will represent the families of the first four women whose bodies were found a year ago along Ocean Parkway.

Cann said she came from Connecticut with her husband and two youngest children. The family arrived Sunday and visited the sites where the bodies of Barnes, Waterman, Amber Costello and Melissa Barthelemy were found on Dec. 11 and 13, 2010.

She said the reality of her sister's death sets in every time she returns to the area. "All the emotions come back and it hits you like a ton of bricks," said Cann, adding that the family sold a television set so that they'd have enough money to travel.

She said she's aware of the comments made by some criticizing the victims, who worked as prostitutes.

"It really shouldn't matter," she said. "They were human beings. They had families."

Search resumes

The relatives' visit Monday came as Suffolk police resumed their search for Gilbert, 24, of Jersey City.

Last week, searchers found Gilbert's pocketbook and what they believe are Gilbert's jeans, cellphone, lip gloss and shoes.

Crime scene investigators Monday used metal detectors in the marshy area, while workers used weed trimmers to clear the terrain.

Investigators believe Gilbert may have run wildly into the marshy area in the dark and drowned, according to Chief of Detectives Dominick Varrone.

They believe she may have ended up in a drainage trench.

The entrance to Oak Beach has been under guard since Gilbert's belongings were discovered. Only residents and those with prior permission from the residents are allowed into the area, now considered a crime scene.

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