For nine long years, Christina Generoso anxiously waited, hoping to hear news that her missing son, Jason Grabert, had finally been found.
When he left their Howell, N.J., home, he was 37 and had recently been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
After he vanished, his sister, Tammy Csaszar, kept in constant contact with police and missing-persons organizations to see whether there were any clues as to where he might have gone.
"I will never give up on searching for you. Jason, I am pleading with you to come home or call me or Mom," she wrote on her Facebook page last year on his birthday.
But Grabert was dead, and his remains had gone unidentified for seven years.
His family didn't learn the truth until this year, when a database matched their DNA with his remains and led them to the coroner's office in Broward County, Fla. Grabert's remains were shipped to New Jersey, and last month, the family held a memorial service that drew 100 mourners.
"We brought him home," Generoso said.
Grabert's case is the single "success story" to come out of a first-of-its kind event that the New Jersey State Police held last year to help families where loved ones have gone missing, said Detective Sgt. Joel Trella, an organizer. "The family was hopeful he was still alive, but they were happy to have a conclusion to the case," he said.
The second annual event, which includes a candlelight ceremony, will be held Saturday at Rowan University's Chamberlain Student Center in Glassboro from 1 to 5 p.m. Families searching for missing relatives are welcome, organizers say. No registration is required. (For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The Grabert case was solved after his mother and sister provided DNA samples to state police during the event last May.
"It was only a matter of minutes for them to swab our mouths and put the DNA into a test tube," Generoso said this week. "I wish someone had told us about the DNA years ago."
Generoso, 67, said she was heartbroken to learn her son had died at age 39, but relieved to know what happened to him. The uncertainty of not knowing his fate had been difficult, she said.
Trella said a 2010 state law requires police in New Jersey to attempt to obtain DNA in missing-persons cases. But in practice, he said, that is not always done. He urged relatives of missing persons to submit DNA samples. The DNA is processed and the information is entered into a secure database that is used only to match cases involving missing persons and unidentified deceased, he said.
More than 15,000 cases appeared in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System's (NamUs) databases in 2011, according to its website.
"Finally bringing my brother home gave me a sense of closure, but also broke my heart. He will forever be missed," Csaszar said.
Generoso said her family wanted to share the story of its search for Grabert to encourage others. "We want to help other people bring their loved ones home, because we know what we went through," she said.
Before Grabert left home, Generoso said, he told her that people were looking for him and he wanted to "go off the grid." He said he couldn't tell her where he was going "for her own protection."
She hired a private detective to find him, and the family had posters with his picture circulated on websites for missing persons. Then, Generoso said, her daughter learned of the state police event last year and they submitted their DNA.
The search ultimately led them to a sad truth: Grabert had taken his own life. His body was discovered in an abandoned home, she said.
Finding no identification, the Florida coroner consulted a missing persons website and saw a listing that said the missing New Jersey man often wore a rope chain necklace with an onyx charm that contained his grandmother's ashes, she said.