One year after a Herkimer woman disappeared near the Mohawk River, a canine search team Saturday found what are believed to be human remains in that same area, state police said.
Troop D Capt. Francis Coots confirmed Saturday evening that a team from Eagle Valley Search Dogs found the remains while searching a wooded area near Lowe’s Home Improvement on Route 5.
The all-volunteer team was searching the area at the request of relatives of Lisa Bawolak, 44, who was first reported missing in August 2009.
We did find what we believe are human remains,” Coots said Saturday. “Obviously, we won’t know until an autopsy is performed, but we are confident they are human.”
The remains will be sent to a medical examiner’s office in Albany for an autopsy, where a coroner will attempt to identify the deceased individual and determine a cause of death from physical evidence and toxicology reports, he said.
Those results will determine how state police proceed with the case.
But, “we may never know the direct cause of death,” Coots added.
A team of traned search dogs began scouring the area between the railroad tracks and the river in Herkimer at about 8 a.m. Saturday and made their discovery sometime that afternoon, Coots said.
State police remained at the scene Saturday evening, however, and had secured it from the public.
Coots would not elaborate on what exactly was found, but said it was not an entire body, the remains had not been buried and they were “consistent with someone being in that spot for a long time.”
He said it was too early to speculate on whether the remains did indeed belong to Bawolak, who was last seen alive on Aug. 5, 2009, in that same vicinity.
Bawolak’s sister, Bonnie Millar, of Ilion, said Saturday evening that she was “99 percent” certain that the remains would prove to be those of her sister, who was being treated for paranoid schizophrenia at the time of her disappearance
Millar, who was at the search scene Saturday with two of Bawolak’s three children, said police told her about 95 percent of a body was recovered and that initial autopsy results could be available as early as Tuesday.
A day earlier, she had said that she hoped her sister’s remains were found despite the fact that such a discovery would put to rest any possibility of her being found alive.
“At this point, I think we all believe that Lisa has passed on,” Millar said. “I think we’re sort of hoping that we can find her remains so we do have closure, especially for her children.”
The family held a small memorial service earlier this month to commemorate the anniversary of Bawolak’s disappearance, but would have to wait several years to have her legally declared dead without finding her body, Millar said.
Aerial and ground searches were performed by state police in the same area last year immediately after Bawolak’s disappearance, but without success.
Millar said Saturday that she feels police did not fully commit to the search for her sister because of her personal history and mental illness.
“We looked for weeks,” he said. “Did we step over her? Did we walk around her? Who knows.”