NBC New York
It took a year and a half but police on Long Island believe they've found the remains of a New Jersey woman. The announcement comes on the day the families of the Gilgo Beach victims gather for a vigil. Katy Tur reports.
A set of skeletal remains was found Tuesday in the oceanfront Long Island marsh where police believe Shannan Gilbert got lost and drowned in the middle of the night in May 2010.
The remains were found on the sixth day that police have been searching the isolated area for the missing prostitute.
Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said the remains were discovered about one-fourth of a mile from where several of Gilbert's belongings were located last week, a landscape thick with mud, brambles and tangled underbrush where police believe Gilbert drowned after fleeing a client's house and running into the dark night.
He said the location of her belongings and the remains indicate she may have been trying to run towards the lights of a nearby roadway, but couldn't navigate her way out of the marsh.
"It would be very easy to get exhausted and fall down and not be able to move any further," Dormer said.
Dormer said police believe the remains are Gilbert's, but will require forensic confirmation.
"It's certainly a sad day for the Gilbert family," Dormer said.
The 24-year-old woman's mother, Mari Gilbert, was at the search scene Tuesday afternoon and said "until I know for sure it's my daughter, I will believe it's not her."
Authorities had combed the area before, but resumed the search last week with amphibious vehicles better capable of trolling the rough terrain, where police officers have occasionally become stuck in waist-deep quicksand-like mud.
Police have also said that much of the marshy area was previously underwater, but those levels have receded enough to allow them to make these discoveries.
Police were searching for Gilbert exactly one year ago when they began finding the bodies of several other sex workers. The friends and family of those victims held a vigil Tuesday afternoon, releasing balloons into the air, to mark the anniversary of the search.
One woman said she is thankful for Gilbert's case that led to her sister's remains being discovered.
"Every time I think of my sister," said Kimberly Overstreet, "I will think of Shannan Gilbert."
Later Tuesday night, the families attended a fundraiser at a local comedy and bar venue, Behind Bars. Owner Heather Trentacosta organized the event to help the victims' families cover their travel costs.
"We want to give them a little dignity," said Trentacosta.
Police have said they believe a single serial killer is responsible for the 10 victims, but have theorized that Gilbert drowned and was not slain by that person.
That theory remained unchanged Tuesday, Dormer said, but the area where the remains were found is being treated as a crime scene just in case. The client Gilbert was seeing, Joseph Brewer, has never been named a suspect in her disappearance.
The remains of the 10 others -- a toddler, a man and eight women -- were discovered along Ocean Parkway last year. Police have not discussed any suspects.
Police believe the adults were working in the sex trade and that they fell victim to a single serial killer.