In a tragic turn to a months-long missing persons case, law enforcement officials confirmed Thursday that a body found in the woods off Interstate 95 earlier this week is that of a missing Marine recruit.
Joseph "Joey" Brancato, 21, of Winthrop, Massachusetts, went missing in the Boston area last fall.
The Norfolk District Attorney's Office confirmed Thursday afternoon that it was Brancato's body that was found Wednesday afternoon off I-95 in Canton. The body was initially spotted in the woods by a person who had stopped to assist a motorist in distress.
Brancato's family had told NBC10 Boston earlier in the day that police had already informed them of the news.
"I love my nephew and I wasn't going to stop until we finally found him," his aunt, Andrea Brancato, said Thursday. "I'm glad we did."
The district attorney's office said an autopsy performed Thursday did not immediately establish the cause or manner of Brancato's death.
Brancato was last seen by an acquaintance in Boston's Roslindale neighborhood on Nov. 18, 2017.
His family said he had gone to live with 39-year-old Marine recruiter Frank Lipka in hopes of getting ready for the armed services, but shortly after moving into Lipka's home on Mendelsohn Street in Roslindale, he disappeared.
"I guess the recruiter said, 'I can help you out. You can live in my basement,'" Brancato's aunt, Dawn Buccieri, said earlier this year.
Police have said that Lipka is a person of interest in Brancato's disappearance. He was in court earlier this week on an unrelated assault charge and was ordered held on $10,000 bail. He is currently in the custody of the Suffolk County Sheriff's Office.
"I have to say that I'm happy we found Joey. I feel like all of our hard work and perserverance and persistence has paid off," Andrea Brancato said. "But then again, I'm sad that a beautiful young man, we can't watch him walk down the aisle with his beautiful wife and have children and have a career... Why take that away from someone so young? He was only 21 years old. He didn't get to experience his life yet."
Brancato's death remains under investigation by Massachusetts State Police detectives assigned to the district attorney's office and Boston police.
"I think the story will unfold," Andrea Brancato said, "but I don't know if we will ever get the exact truth that happened to Joey."