Since Megan Waterman of Maine disappeared more than seven months ago, her mother and brother feared the worst.
That didn't ease the pain Wednesday when they learned that her badly decomposed body was one of four found near Gilgo Beach in December.
"I'm devastated," said her mother, Lorraine Ela, of South Portland, Maine.
Megan, of Scarborough, Maine, would have celebrated her 23rd birthday Tuesday. She left behind a 4-year-old daughter, Liliana.
"Why did it happen to her, of all the people?" said her brother, Greg Waterman, 24, of Raymond, Maine. "She didn't have a bad bone in her body."
Megan's best friend, Nicole Haycock, 22, wants answers: "How did she die? Who did it and why?"
Megan dropped out of high school and worked in delis and sandwich shops, her mother said. She met Akeem Cruz at a dance club in Portland, Maine, in the spring of 2009 and they dated.
A few months later, Megan began working as a prostitute, her mother said.
The last time the trio saw Megan was just before Memorial Day weekend when, they said, she and Cruz, 22, boarded a bus headed for New York City. Megan traveled regularly to Long Island to entertain clients she met on the Internet, police and her family said. She checked in to the Holiday Inn Express on June 5, according to Suffolk police.
It's not known where Megan and Cruz were staying in the days before June 5.
On that day, Haycock said, she spoke to Megan by phone. According to Haycock, Megan said Cruz wanted her to stop working as a prostitute and the two would start a family.
"She was happy about her life," Haycock said. "I thought things were turning around for her."
Ela said police told her that a hotel security camera showed Megan leaving the Holiday Inn Express with Cruz at about 8 p.m. on June 5, a Saturday. Megan returned to the hotel by herself at about 8:30 p.m., Ela said. At about 1:30 a.m. on June 6, a call was placed from Cruz's cell phone to Megan's cell phone, Ela said, and hotel security cameras showed Megan walking out of her room at about 1:30 a.m. by herself.
That morning, at about 7:30 a.m., Ela said, Cruz called Megan Waterman's grandmother to say she was missing. Suffolk County police declined to comment on the sequence of events.
No one has told Megan's daughter her mother won't be coming home, Ela said, but that tough task will be carried out in the next few days.
"She was a devoted mother," Haycock said. "She would do anything for Liliana."