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The headless torso that was recovered from the Niagara Gorge below the Horseshoe Falls last week has been positively identified as Loretta Jo Gates, the missing Niagara Falls woman and mother of three, authorities confirmed Friday.
DNA testing from tissue collected from the torso and compared with samples from Gates' hair and toothbrush as well as swabs from her parents positively confirmed the torso belonged to that of the 30-year-old woman, the Erie County Central Police Services Forensic Laboratory reported.
"It is disturbing, and we don't have any indication on a motive at this time," said Niagara Falls Police Capt. William Thomson ,who encourages anyone who may have seen or had contact with Gates before her disappearance early on Aug. 26 to contact detectives at 716-286-4553. Gates' death is classified as a homicide.
Thomson and Capt. Steven A. Nigrelli, chief of the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigations in Batavia, met with reporters early Friday evening to announce the findings, just two hours after authorities on the Canadian side of the border announced they had recovered a partial arm and leg from the Whirlpool Rapids.
Thomson and Nigrelli cautioned, however, it is not yet known whether those body parts also belonged to Gates. They were taken to the Hamilton General Hospital pathology unit for examination, according to the Niagara Regional Police.
Gates, who had recently moved in with her mother in an apartment near Niagara Avenue and Main Street, was last seen in the early morning hours of Aug. 26 at the Bridgeway Mart - a small corner store across the street from where she was staying.
She had told family members she was going there, but never returned, police said.
Authorities said they know she visited the store and did leave it early that morning. She was never seen again.
On Aug. 29, a tourist near the Maid of the Mist landing on the Canadian side of the falls found the torso in the river basin and alerted authorities. Niagara Parks Police recovered it, but until Friday it had remained unidentified.
Gates' mother reported her daughter missing to Niagara Falls police on Tuesday.
Family members said Thursday they filed the missing person's report after seeing media reports about the found torso.
"She had just moved in with her mother. She was an adult. [At first], they didn't think it was a big deal [that she hadn't returned]," said Thomson about the delay in the filing of the missing person's report. "Then, the days added up, and they decided to make a report."
Despite emerging evidence this week that the torso may likely have belonged to Gates and that police had told the family "to prepare for the worst," Lisa Gates - Loretta's sister - told The Buffalo News Thursday family members clung to hope she might be alive.
"We want to hear her voice or see her face," Lisa Gates said Thursday. "That's all we want. If she doesn't want to come home, all we want is to hear from her."
The Gates family was not answering phone calls late Friday.
Authorities on Friday said their investigation is in its "infancy stage" and they are launching full-bore into solving the case and finding Gates' killer. Details remained limited Friday about the circumstances of her disappearance and her death, police said.
Nigrelli said authorities know Gates' body was dumped in the Niagara River "above the falls" but they are still unsure where the body went into the water or how it got there.
"It could have been anywhere in the river," Nigrelli said. "It's tragic and it hits the community hard. That's why we're asking for the public to come forward."
Authorities on this side of the border met with Canadian officials early Friday after Niagara Regional Police received information from a fisherman about a possible sighting of a body part in the lower Niagara River Thursday evening. Niagara Regional Police - with the assistance of a Whirlpool Jet Boat - recovered a partial arm and leg about 4 p.m. from the Whirlpool Rapids, police reported.
Authorities also reported there was no apparent link between Gates' death and the recoveries of two other female bodies in the gorge earlier this summer. Neither of those bodies had been dismembered, police said.
"It appears at this time [Gates' death] is a separate, distinct incident," Nigrelli said.
"We're trying to follow up on leads," Thomson said of the joint ongoing investigation between Niagara Falls, state police and Canadian authorities. "We don't have a clear suspect right now."

email: tpignataro@buffnews.com