Bill Bohach often walks the beach as manager of Orient Beach State Park at the wild eastern tip of the North Fork of Long Island, checking for erosion left by powerful ocean storms.
When he saw what had washed up one day in December of this year, along a remote section of beach about a mile from the park’s swimming area, he knew it was special. But there was no way he could have known it was the beginning a Christmas miracle for a family still grieving the loss of a daughter in a drunk-driving accident.
Bohach recognized that the simple wooden sign on a post, which bore the name “Erica Lee Knowles” and the word “Alou” meant something, to someone, somewhere. “The letters had been made with a router, so I knew someone had taken time to make it,” said the 21-year Parks veteran employee.
So, he picked up the waterlogged sign, carried it the mile back to the park, and took it to the maintenance shop to dry out, placing a note on it warning not to throw it away. Next, came internet sleuthing by Jorge Eusebio, a parks aide, who Googled Erica’s name, and quickly learned of her 2012 death as a passenger in a Rhode Island car crash.
“Once I saw that, it made my mission stronger, to find out whose sign this was,” said Eusebio, who started with Parks in 2017. He located what he thought might be a relative’s name on Facebook, and sent a private message, but got no response. He persisted, locating another name and sending another private message about the sign.
Eusebio had located a cousin to Shiela and John Priore, Erica’s parents, who lived in Georgia, but were heading up to New York for the Christmas holidays in a few days. And Eusebio learned from them that they had placed the sign as a memorial to Erica on Black Point in Narragansett, Rhode Island, a few miles from the accident scene. Black Point is on Block Island Sound about 45 miles east from Orient Beach.
Sometime this year, the memorial had disappeared, apparently the work of vandals who cut the post and discarded it … by throwing it into the sea.
And from there, it had floated, borne by currents and winds, to wash up months later at Orient Beach. The map below shows Orient Beach State Park, on the eastern tip of Long Island’s North Fork (left) and Black Point in Narangansett, Rhode Island (right).
“There are no words to convey how much Bill and Jorge’s act of kindness has meant to us. It was our Christmas miracle,” said Shiela Priore. “Anytime we get to share Erica with this world is a good one. On top of recognizing that the cross meant something but to take the time and effort to search for us leaves me speechless. Our family is forever grateful. We feel as if Bill and Jorge honored her life and her memory.”
Erica was studying journalism and women’s studies at the University of Rhode Island when she was killed at age 23. The driver in the car she was in was later sentenced to prison time for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Now that the memorial is recovered, Shiela said the family plans to have it placed at a family home on Martha’s Vineyard, a favorite place of their daughter’s where her ashes were spread.
And what of the word “Alou” that is on the sign? “It is how my kids said, `I love you’ when they were small children,” said Shiela.
Both Bill and Jorge recognize their roles in the amazing chain of events against long odds that the memorial would ever again find its way back home to the Priore family. And see the lesson that there is no telling how far a compassionate act might travel.
“I think during these difficult times, this is a message that everyone needs to hear. No matter how it might look, there is still hope,” said Jorge.
Cover Shot – Beach at Orient Beach State Park (Photo Credit – NYS Parks)
Post by Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer, NYS Parks.
More About Orient Beach State Park
Orient Beach State Park is a natural wonderland of waterfront with 45,000 feet of frontage on Gardiner’s Bay and a rare maritime forest with red cedar, black-jack oak trees and prickly-pear cactus. Its natural beauty earned designation as a National Natural Landmark in 1980. Other natural attractions in the park include the saltwater marsh and marine wildlife. Great Blue Herons, Egrets, Black Crowned Night Herons, and Osprey are common sights in the park, leading to its recognition as an Audubon Important Bird Area.