As many prepared for the worst as Hurricane Irma approached South Florida this weekend, canals around Palm Beach County were drained to prevent flooding. At one in west Boca Raton, near Florida’s Turnpike, a dark-colored car emerged as the water levels dropped. The car and the body inside, investigators later told family, belonged to the Boca Raton-area grandmother missing since December.
“I feel like years would have went by if it weren’t for something horrible like the hurricane to happen because we would never have found her,” Rosannie Feliciano told The Palm Beach Post Wednesday. “Out of something tragic, something good. Now we can start to heal and grieve.”
Feliciano’s sister Loraine “Lori” Feliciano-Pino disappeared Dec. 19, less than a week before she was set to go on a family trip for Christmas. The 47-year-old mother of two and grandmother of two was last seen leaving her home in a 2011 gray Toyota RAV4. Her phone was either off or had died and there were no transactions on her credit card or bank accounts, so detectives had no electronic trail to follow, family said.
In March, Feliciano-Pino’s family spoke at a press conference asking for any clues into her disappearance. Family said she was their rock and wouldn’t just leave without saying anything.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office searched canals across the county, but did not find her until Saturday, nearly nine months since she disappeared.
“When you’re going through something like that for nine months it feels like an eternity,” Rosannie Feliciano said. “There is definitely some relief. Some people don’t find their loved ones for years or ever.”
On Saturday, Rosannie Feliciano was at her home with her younger sister’s family who were all staying with her for Hurricane Irma. She was in the kitchen cooking before the power would go out as her sister was looking through Facebook. Then the photo appeared: a gray vehicle sticking up from a Boca-area canal. People on Facebook commented saying it looked a lot like the vehicle their sister was last seen in.
Feliciano called the detective on the case and left a voicemail. She wanted to go out to see the car and the canal, but it was past 3 p.m. and there was a county-wide curfew because of the hurricane.
A few hours later, a call from the detective: It was Lori’s vehicle. Her phone and other belongings were found inside. A woman with dark hair —like her sister —was found inside.
“I was initially completely shocked then was very angry,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many times I said (to detectives) can we please check this canal because it was close to where she lived.”
She said so many questions are still unanswered, like what happened? Why didn’t the dive teams find the car? How did her sister die?
According to the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s Office, a woman by the name of Loraine Pino was examined on Saturday. Because many county offices remained closed after Hurricane Irma, no further information was available. Feliciano said because of the hurricane, everything has been stalled, .
“We all are shocked and disappointed. We hoped it would be a different outcome,” she said.
For months, family made pleas on social media and to the media and “religiously” posted missing posters across the county. Feliciano said she couldn’t believe a photo of a car on Facebook was how she found out her sister’s fate.
Since then, she said social media posts have been very positive, sharing memories and photos of Lori or “Mima” as she was known to her granddaughters. As far as she knows, Feliciano said those two little girls still think their grandmother got lost and hasn’t found her way home.
She said it all happened so quickly on Saturday and then has been stalled since the storm, so she’s still trying to process and stay positive at least knowing where her sister is now.
“(Lori) had so many friends and so many people that truly loved her, so we cling to those good memories.”
Palm Beach Post Staff Researcher Melanie Mena contributed to this report.
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