Family members held out hope that remains found Tuesday night on a Suffolk County beach may put to rest the mystery of what happened to 24-year-old Shannan Gilbert.
"You never know," said Lori Grove of Williamsburg, Pa., Gilbert's aunt. "This may be the fifth one or it could be Shannan. We just want to find her and bring her home."
The Jersey City woman's disappearance May 1 sparked a search that resulted in the discovery of four bodies believed to be victims of an apparent serial killer. Those remains were found not far from where the skeletal remains were found Tuesday night.
Up until she was contacted by a Newsday reporter Tuesday, Grove said neither she nor anyone from Gilbert's family knew another search was under way. Tuesday night, Grove said she was trying to reach investigators in her niece's case.
With the anniversary of Gilbert's disappearance looming, Grove said she wants to continue bringing attention to the case.
She said Gilbert's family may put on an event to keep her search active and visible if last night's discovery proves to be someone else.
"So while we're grateful that our search has helped recover other missing females, we don't want the detectives to quit looking for Shannan," Grove said.
Gilbert, who police and family have said worked as a prostitute, disappeared on Oak Beach after visiting the home of a man who had contacted her through the Craigslist website.
She was last seen calling 911 and pleading for help.
Police said the first 911 call made by Gilbert was placed from the house of Joseph Brewer, 46, who was her contact through Craigslist. Police have since eliminated Brewer as a suspect.
Suffolk police responded to at least two 911 calls from Oak Beach on the night Gilbert disappeared.
According to a witness, a sobbing Gilbert banged on the door of an Oak Beach resident who let her in and then called 911 himself.
Suffolk County police have not released the tapes of the 911 calls.
The family blames police for not responding quickly enough to Gilbert's call.
"Her 23-minute-long 911 call, which went unresponded to for about 45 minutes . . . is inexcusable and unjustifiable," said Grove, adding that a faster response may have prevented Gilbert's disappearance. "The least they can do is continue an active search for her and maintain communication with her sisters and me."
A couple of weeks after her disappearance, Gilbert's sisters, Sarra and Sherre Gilbert, traveled from upstate Ellenville to investigate on their own. They talked to Brewer and neighbors, walked along the roads and even found one of Gilbert's earrings.
Grove said there must be someone out there who knows something about her niece's whereabouts and pleaded with anyone with information to call detectives.
"We implore anyone with any potential leads to please call detectives ASAP," she said. "Someone has to know something out there. Her sisters and I are continuing to seek valid alternatives to help bring Shannan home."