Shannan Gilbert's family visits Oak Beach

One�year after her daughter's disappearance, mother Mari Gilbert and her family visit the beach area where Shannan�Gilbert was last seen. Videojournalist: James Carbone (May 1, 2011)

One�year after her daughter's disappearance, mother Mari Gilbert and her family visit the beach area where Shannan�Gilbert was last seen. Videojournalist: James Carbone (May 1, 2011)

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Shannan Gilbert's family retraced her steps around Oak Beach Sunday, hoping to learn more about how or why the Jersey City woman disappeared exactly a year ago.

They stood on the beach, held hands, prayed, wept and knocked on doors. Instead of answers, they left with questions. Instead of assistance, they found anger.

At one house, Shannan Gilbert's mother, Mari Gilbert, climbed the wooden steps and knocked on the front door as other family members waited. No one answered.

"Just to let you people know, I am calling 911 now," a woman who lives across the street shouted. She didn't identify herself, but said the group was trespassing on private property and three other neighbors were also calling police.

"It's gonna take 45 minutes for 911 to get here," Mari Gilbert shouted back, referring to the approximate length of time it took the Suffolk County police to respond to Shannan Gilbert's cellphone call for help on May 1, 2010, the day she disappeared. Suffolk police had said Shannan Gilbert was incoherent and was unable to give her location to the dispatcher. An officer responded after neighbors also called 911.

The disappearance of Shannan Gilbert, who worked as a prostitute, triggered what would become one of the largest police investigations in Suffolk County history, an ongoing search that has uncovered as many as 10 sets of human remains in the Gilgo Beach and Oak Beach areas. Police have said that the first four sets of remains -- all women who had worked as prostitutes -- may be the work of a serial killer. The other sets of remains have yet to be identified.

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Starting about 9 a.m. Monday, New York State Police, with the assistance of Nassau County police and other agencies, will search both sides of the Wantagh State Parkway from Merrick Road to Ocean Parkway, marking the first time they have moved off the barrier island.

The portion of the parkway between Merrick Road and the Jones Beach water tower -- including the bike and pedestrian path -- will be closed during the search.

State Police Lt. William Hulse said the expansion was not triggered by new leads nor has the department been given any new tips.

About a dozen people -- including family members, friends and several people who didn't know Shannan Gilbert but have been following her case -- gathered at the Oak Beach parking lot at noon Sunday. They held hands while Shannan's aunt, Lori Grove of Pennsylvania, said a prayer before the group, trailed by reporters and photographers, walked into the gated community where Shannan met a client the night she vanished.

"I feel like the only way to connect with her is to be here," said her sister Sarra Gilbert, 22, of Ellenville, N.Y.

At the end of the two-hour walk around Oak Beach, the group gathered just outside the gated community and lit candles as Grove said a prayer.

"This candle is for Shannan," said her sister Sherre Gilbert, 23, also of Ellenville. "May she come home alive and safe."

The tour marked the second time the two sisters and their mother had driven from upstate to Oak Beach in an effort to find Shannan. The first occurred shortly after she disappeared.

Mike Dougherty, a former English professor from Massapequa Park, and Liz Hogan, a bus driver from Shirley, were among those who said they never met Shannan Gilbert but followed her family on the tour.

"I came to show my support," Dougherty said.

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With Tania Lopez

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