- Associated Press - Friday, January 1, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - The family of a missing Washington state woman held out hope for years that she didn’t drown in a river rapid on the Salmon River in Idaho after her inflatable kayak overturned.

Now they’ve restarted the grieving process but also said they have closure after DNA testing on a skull sitting in a police evidence room for nearly two decades confirmed the identity as Patricia Louise Tamosaitis of Medical Lake in eastern Washington.

“It’s brought up a lot of different emotions again,” said her son, Ed Tamosaitis, 51, who lives in Medical Lake. “We went through the grieving process again, but we’re also happy to be bringing her home.”

Patricia Tamosaitis was 56 on Aug. 28, 1994, when she and a companion entered the Class IV Snow Hole Rapids and both went into the water. The companion survived but Tamosaitis didn’t come out of the water. About 20 minutes later her still buckled life jacket surfaced, and searchers later found part of her swimsuit.

In July 1996 an employee with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management found a skull about a third of a mile downstream, but the teeth had been eroded away from the flowing water.

The Idaho County Sheriff’s Office received a written evaluation of the skull in July 1996 from the University of Idaho that identified it as likely coming from a Native American male age 17 to 20. However, the sheriff’s office considered the finding of the skull so near where Tamosaitis went missing more than a coincidence.

“We trusted our gut and the DNA ultimately settled the question,” said Lt. Jerry Johnson.

Johnson said the agency, when it has time between current cases, reviews old cases. It was during one of those lulls in June 2012 that he sent the skull to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification.

The evaluation that came back in September 2012 said it was likely from a female age 30 to 60, but said the eroded condition likely meant it had been in a river for more than two years.

However, the sheriff’s office moved forward and the center extracted DNA that proved to be a family match with DNA supplied by her three children, a son and two daughters.

“It’s nice to take one of the missing persons off our list and give a family some closure,” Johnson said.

Ed Tamosaitis said what makes him sad is all the family milestones his mom missed, such as weddings and the births of grandchildren.

“She was a best friend to me and my sisters,” he said. “Somebody that we looked up to and loved dearly.”

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