Body of Youngstown restaurant owner James Donofrio found - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

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Body of Youngstown restaurant owner James Donofrio found

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio - It's been a year and a half since we first reported the strange disappearance of Avalon Gardens Restaurant owner James Donofrio.

Now, this missing person's case has taken a tragic turn.

21 WFMJ has learned that Donofrio's body was actually found more than a year ago along the Ohio River and has been sitting in a morgue in West Virginia since then; unidentified until now.

Youngstown police detectives were only informed that his remains were recovered on Tuesday morning by authorities in West Virginia.

Investigators had to break the news to the victim's family. Donofrio's daughter Carli and his sister-in-law Nancy Donofrio say they knew this day would come. But they feel there are still more questions than answers.

"Our understanding of the facts is still very unclear. Apparently, Jim has been in a morgue in West Virginia since March 25th, 2012. At this time our family needs to process this inevitably bad news about our loved one. We ask for privacy and certainly for the rumors to finally cease. We know one thing that we've always known, Jim did not walk away from his family that he loved. It remains to be known the cause of Jim's death," Nancy Donofrio said.

The victim's daughter, Carli Donofrio, said she fell to her knees the day she was told her father was missing. She says she knew then that something terrible happened because he would never walk away from his family.

But now family members along with Youngstown police detectives are waiting to hear from the West Virginia Medical Examiner's Office. They want to know why it took more than a year to identify Donofrio's body.

"We have no idea. We've looked. We're on all the national missing person's databases. Jim's DNA, and his dental records and other information have been around for over a year now. So certainly the information was there. So yes, we are very unclear as to why it took this amount of time," Nancy Donofrio said.

According to what little preliminary investigation they have received, Youngstown Police Chief Rod Foley said, "There's no cause of death as of yet. There are no obvious signs of foul play. But it's early yet."

Donofrio's disappearance launched a massive search by land, water and air back in 2011, and the chief says he's shocked to think that the body could have traveled from the Mahoning River and eventually made its way to the Ohio River, a distance of about 120 miles to Carlington, West Virginia.

"There was a lot of river current at that time, I recall. There was some heavy rains in that time frame and we were concerned if the body went in how far it would go down. Certainly we didn't think it would go that far," Chief Foley said.

The case remains an open investigation with Youngstown police detectives working with the FBI, and the question remains, what really happened to James Donofrio?

Chief Foley tells 21 News, "There was never nothing that would say foul play was involved. We looked into those issues. Obviously, the family has some concern there could have been."

Ironically, a magistrate in the probate court recently ruled against having Donofrio officially declared dead saying there wasn't enough evidence to prove he was deceased. His family has since appealed.

 

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