The Donofrio family was blindsided, along with the entire community, by Tuesday’s news that Jim Donofrio’s body had been identified after being found more than a year ago in southern Ohio.
Nancy Donofrio, Jim’s sister-in-law, and his daughter, Carli Donofrio, are wrestling with many of the same questions everyone is asking: What exactly caused the death of Jim Donofrio? And why did it take more than a year for authorities to tell the family they had found their lost loved one?
Youngstown police said West Virginia State Medical Examiners matched Donofrio’s dental records after he was found March 25, 2012, near Route 7 in Clarington near the West Virginia-Ohio border, about 128 river miles from where Donofrio’s Land Rover was found abandoned on the banks of the Mahoning River in Youngstown in late September of 2011.
Because West Virginia has jurisdiction over the waterway, the investigation is being handled by that state’s Medical Examiner’s Office.
“Jim Donofrio loved his family more than he loved probably his life itself,” Nancy Donofrio said.
Those family members now are reliving the nightmare that started in September 2011, when they got the call Jim was missing. Donofrio’s daughter and sister-in-law said the news of Jim’s body being found is only one piece of the puzzle.
“At this time our family needs to process this inevitably bad news about our loved one. We ask for privacy, and certainly for the rumors to finally cease,” Nancy Donofrio said.
She said those rumors included that Jim had left his family and was in Mexico or some other exotic location.
“Today I wish he was in Mexico sipping a margarita,” Nancy Donofrio said.
She said they’re waiting to hear from Youngstown Police, FBI and West Virginia authorities, but they have no idea why Donofrio’s body sat in a West Virginia morgue for more than a year.
“We are on the national databases, Jim’s DNA and his dental records and whatnot have been around for over a year now, so certainly the information was there, so yes we are very unclear as to why it took this amount of time,” Nancy Donofrio said.
A cause of death has not yet been determined. Youngstown Police Chief Rod Foley said Tuesday the initial autopsy showed no obvious signs of foul play.
The family is awaiting autopsy results to see if Donofrio’s heart condition or recent head injury had anything to do with his death. Nancy Donofrio hopes they’ll learn more about his death, and recovery of his body, in the coming days and weeks.
“We know one thing that we’ve always known. Jim did not walk away from his family that he loved,” she said.
Donofrio, 64, was reported missing Sept. 26, 2011. Family members had last heard from Donofrio hours earlier as he was on his way to the Avalon Gardens restaurant on Belmont Avenue, which he owned.
No funeral arrangements are made, but the family plans to give Donofrio a timely and proper burial.
Watch the raw interview with the family below.