Joy MacDonald, who was last seen Sept. 9, was found dead in the Passagassawakeag River in Belfast. Credit: Courtesy of Jenny Presley

BELFAST, Maine — The body found Monday afternoon in the Passagassawakeag River in Belfast has been identified as a missing woman, police said Tuesday.

Joy MacDonald, 40, of Belfast was last seen on Sept. 9. She had been reported missing earlier this month by concerned family members and searchers had looked for her in and near the river last week.  

“We are all completely devastated,” her sister, Jenny Presley, said Tuesday. “It’s kind of an impossible comfort. At least we know something, even though it’s the one thing we didn’t want to know.”

Workers from Front Street Shipyard had found a body in the water on Monday, Belfast Police Chief Gerry Lincoln said. The body was found near some boats by the Armistice Bridge, he said. Police removed the body from the water and brought it to the Maine medical examiner’s office.

Presley said that her sister had two female symbols tattooed on her hipbone to symbolize gay pride, and that is how medical examiners were able to identify her.

“They’re doing the autopsy right now,” Presley said. “They said they’d be able to determine exactly what happened, whether there was a crime, or if this was an accident. We should know more information this afternoon.”

Last week, Presley and other family members described MacDonald, 40, as a sweet, smart, spiritual, quiet, funny and very private person who seemed to vanish from the apartment on Cedar Street where she lived alone.

A few years ago, MacDonald had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease that can be debilitating. She would often spend time by herself trying to heal “from the inside out,” Presley said, which meant that it wasn’t unusual for her to go for several weeks without being in touch with her family and friends.

But at the end of September, Presley grew concerned when her increasingly worried texts to MacDonald went unanswered. When she went to her sister’s apartment to check on her, what she found troubled her. The lights were on, the fans and air conditioners were running, and mail and packages were stacked up waist-high in the entryway.

“The only thing missing from her apartment was her,” Presley said.

Jenny Presley, right, and her wife Yvette Presley. Jenny is the sister of Joy MacDonald, whose body was found in the Passagassawakeag River in Belfast on Monday. Credit: Abigail Curtis / BDN

Then she learned that Belfast police officers had responded to an incident that happened on Sept. 9. That morning, MacDonald, who seemed to be confused, had driven to a house near the police station. She stood on the porch of that house for about half an hour and then tried to get in the house, but couldn’t. She didn’t try to break in, Presley said. Then MacDonald turned around and got back in her car and drove away.

An officer who followed up with MacDonald that day at her own apartment said she was not under the influence of anything, but seemed “a bit standoffish,” Presley said.

“Like she thought she was going to be in trouble,” she said. “Which leads me to believe that she likely was confused.”

Her family wondered if the confusion was due to MacDonald’s multiple sclerosis, which did affect her brain.

Searchers concentrated on looking for her near the footbridge because MacDonald’s white Nissan Rogue was discovered parked near the bridge on Pierce Street, and had been there for some time.

A missing persons flyer posted by the Armistice Footbridge in Belfast seeks information about the whereabouts of Joy MacDonald. Her body was found in the Passagassawakeag River in Belfast on Monday. Credit: Abigail Curtis / BDN

After MacDonald’s body is released back to her family, she will be cremated, Presley said, because it’s what she wanted. There will be a service at some point as well.

The family appreciates the way the Belfast community came together to help while the search was underway. Community members looked for her, and crews from the Maine Marine Patrol and Maine Warden Service used dogs, boats with side-scan sonar and planes to scour the riverbank, river and bay.

“There’s been an outpouring of prayers and love,” Presley said.

The loss of MacDonald, who she described as her best friend as well as her sister, has been a huge blow.

“It’s as if a piece of my soul is missing,” Presley said. “We were both tomboys and would ride our bikes everywhere. We stayed super tight our whole lives. I know that a lot of people don’t get to have that type of relationship at all in their lives.”

Now, she will need to muster the strength to do hard things, such as pack up MacDonald’s apartment.

“It’s going to be really hard,” Presley said, adding that she is trying to find solace in the spirituality she shared with her sister. “She’s a beautiful person. An amazing soul. I have to believe she has to go on and do other things now.”