Family members of Loretta Gates are painfully aware that the headless torso found last week in the churning, turbulent waters at the base of Niagara Falls could be that of the missing mother of three.
Sometime today, they could hear from police on whether the dead woman's DNA matches samples that her parents provided to authorities.
They know that the autopsy on the unidentified woman showed signs she had at least two Caesarian sections and a tubal ligation.
Gates, 30, had all three of her children by C-section, and her tubes were tied.
They know that the body had a closed-up belly button piercing.
Gates had gotten her navel pierced when she was 18, but let it close up when she was pregnant with her first child.
They also know the torso was found near the Maid of the Mist boat launch Aug. 29.
Gates was last seen on the night of Aug. 25, when she told her mother, with whom she has lived in Niagara Falls, that she was heading to a store across the street and would be back in 15 minutes. That was the last time Gates was seen or heard from.
Gates had battled addictions to alcohol and drugs in the past - a dark time that led to her losing custody of her children. But even then, family members say, she always called home to let her family know she was OK.
"She's always called in," said her sister, Lisa Gates. "Even when she was bad doing her thing. She would call in once a day or check in with her daughter. . She hasn't done that."
Knowing all this, her loved ones still are holding out hope.
By Thursday, they had plastered the streets of the Falls with posters of the missing woman.
"My whole family is out," Lisa Gates told The Buffalo News. "We already went through 200 [fliers]. We just made 500."
But they all know that terrible news could come at any moment.
"The cops told us to prepare for the worst," Lisa Gates said.
Gates said police contacted the family Thursday seeking Loretta's cellphone number for purposes of finding out who she may have last talked to or texted prior to her disappearance.
Lisa Gates said she can't imagine anyone wanting to hurt her sister.
"She's very lovable, very friendly, kindhearted," she said. "I don't know who would do this to her."
Loretta Gates had been clean for nearly four years, her sister said. She was in the process of regaining custody of her three children, the youngest of whom started kindergarten Thursday.
On her Facebook page, she wrote: "im getting my life together for my 3 children I love them soso much."
Gates gave no indication that she could have relapsed, her sister said.
But now that's the family's best hope.
"We want to hear her voice or see her face," Lisa Gates said. "That's all we want. If she doesn't want to come home, all we want is to hear from her."
The torso in question was noticed Aug. 29 by a tourist on one of the Maid of the Mist boats. Canadian authorities recovered it and began an investigation, in conjunction with Niagara Falls police on the U.S. side and the State Police.
The body showed evidence that the woman was killed, said State Police Capt. Steven A. Nigrelli. "This is definitely considered a homicide," he said.
Loretta Gates' mother went to Niagara Falls police Tuesday to report her daughter missing. The mother and father both provided DNA samples for comparison. They also gave investigators Loretta's hairbrush and toothbrush.
DNA analysis is being conducted by the Erie County Central Police Services laboratory. Nigrelli said late Thursday that findings were expected to be revealed as soon as late this morning.
Lisa Gates said the family had been hearing news reports about the grisly discovery of the torso.
"We were just getting ready to report her missing, and I had overheard at work the stuff about what was found in the gorge," the sister said.
The torso is one of three bodies of women recovered from the Niagara River this summer.
State Parks Police said the two other bodies have been identified, but those names are being withheld because the investigations were not complete.
On July 10, a body was found in the lower Niagara River in the Town of Lewiston. On Aug. 11, a second body was found in the river in the City of Niagara Falls. Police would say only that the women were Americans and that there is no indication that the three cases are connected in any way.
News Staff Reporters Nancy A. Fischer and T.J. Pignataro contributed to this report. email: email@example.com