Still Searching


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Jul 18, 2023

Still Searching

Area family looks for answers in mysterious disappearance of Michael Sinotte Jr. NORTH KINGSTOWN — Michael Sinotte Jr.’s mother put her plea simply. “We want his body and I want it out of that swamp.”

Area family looks for answers in mysterious disappearance of Michael Sinotte Jr.

NORTH KINGSTOWN — Michael Sinotte Jr.’s mother put her plea simply. “We want his body and I want it out of that swamp.”

Those desperate words come from Ann Felici, who with her former husband and Pawtucket resident Michael Sinotte Sr., are still searching for their long-missing and mentally-impaired son known as “Mikey.”

Four-and-a-half years ago, his parents and searchers for him say, the 22-year-old walked into the thickly wooded and dangerous terrain of the Great Swamp in West Kingston.

He never returned. He has never been found.

This mother cannot set aside the fate of the child she bore, the loss of a goodbye that never happened, a burial that is delayed because there’s no body. These are circumstances beyond her control.

Control, so much a part of raising children, was snatched by the turns of time that make them adults giving them their own choices.

The only traces of him have been a locked car and some clues, but no physical remains of this young man with a history of schizophrenia. With his severe mental disorder, people interpret reality abnormally and it can come with combinations of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking.

Schizophrenia requires lifelong treatment, but Mikey stopped his medication. No one knows for sure if his disappearance is deliberate, a decision made in a mentally-impaired state or some combination of both. Neither parents nor the police suspect intentional harm to him.

“We just want closure one way or the other. It’s difficult for me. It’s every day,” said both parents about Mikey.

On Tuesday, a collection of searchers will once again hike into the swamp home to snakes, bugs, wild animals and other creatures.

They will go as others did during more than 10 other attempts that included various local and state law enforcement, rescue, search and dive teams. It was always the same result: few or no clues, but not much else.

The makings of this tragedy and loss for Ann Felici, Michael Sinotte Sr. and Mikey’s siblings began just two or so years after moving to North Kingstown.

A friendly and engaging young boy, he became quiet, reserved and sensitive to loud sounds that provoked his anger. His laughs and good-natured personality faded away, say his parents.

Eventually, doctors diagnosed him in his late teens with schizophrenia.

A very quiet and reserved young man after the diagnosis, he was even more so the week before he disappeared, his mother said. He started giving all his things away. The psychosis was getting worse than ever, Felici remembered.

“We were concerned as a family. He wasn’t himself. He was not a big talker and he wasn’t talking much now,” she said.

“He stopped taking his medications, saying he didn’t need them anymore and felt fine. People like that don’t know how they’re acting and they are not fine,” she recalled.

He wouldn’t listen. Authorities told her he could only be hospitalized if he tried to harm himself or others, but there was no evidence or attempts they knew of either happening.

Police report that when they examined his computer — one remaining possession at home — they found no information related to the disappearance or planning for it.

He left no trace of where his inner thoughts took him online and his planned travels or destination. He wanted no one to know and took careful measures to ensure no clues - if there ever were some.

“He definitely left knowing he wasn’t coming back. He gave me a kiss and a hug that night, saying, ‘Just love each other.’ I now take that, looking back, as his goodbye after I realized what he said,” his mother says now.

According to North Kingstown Police, his mother said she last saw him on June 13, 2019, at 3:30 p.m.

Another 10 and a half hours later, at 2:04 a.m. on June 14, South Kingstown Police report talking to him while he was stopped on Route 138, across from the West Kingston Post Office. He was in his 2000 black Honda Civic.

“He stated he was lost and was a Grubhub driver. After the encounter he reversed direction and headed east on 138 as he stated he was going home to North Kingstown,” police said.

“He didn’t tell the officer his reasons and was his usual quiet self, offering no other information, so the officer left,” said Michael Sinotte Sr. recalled.

He also said that didn’t know much about his son’s state of mind that night, use of drugs or other substances that might alter his perception and mix with his schizophrenia.

Later that day, according to North Kingstown Police, he was reported missing for failure to come home.

In those early morning hours in West Kingston, he was just around the corner from the road that would take him to the fabled Great Swamp.

Police believe he never went home after the early morning police stop and mobile phone signals show he headed toward the Great Swamp. Then the phone was turned off. Felici said Mikey liked to hike in that forest.

Hiking in the dark, though, is another story.

During the early morning South Kingstown police stop, Felici thinks now he might have been checking for some directions because of a Geocache computer game he played and looking for geocaches in the swamp, but she isn’t sure.

She is sure, though, that the schizophrenia was affecting him making a rational decision about entering a dangerous forest land and ensuring that no one might be able to track his movements with a turned-off phone.

Mikey seemed to be on the way to a destiny he was choosing for himself and without the guardrails of mental health treatment that he refused and the parents could not legally require, she and others agree.

The police were the last to see him. He eventually drove down Liberty Lane to the end where a dirt and gravel road leads to the West Kingston Great Swamp Management Area overseen by the state.

South Kingstown Police report finding his car there on June 17, 2019, at 3:42 p.m. Two windows were slightly down and a mostly uneaten fast food hamburger and barely touched cup of soda were found. It was the day after Father’s Day, Michael Sr. remembered.

There was no sign of Mikey.

The Great Swamp is a primarily forested 3,475-acre tract with 75% wetlands.

One person who has become very familiar with that swamp and clues about potential search areas for Mikey is Bill McIntosh, a civilian naval special warfare candidate instructor.

He has participated in searches for the missing North Kingstown man as well as found or helped find numerous missing persons in New England and overseas.

He said that there is evidence showing Mikey was involved in Geocaching.

It is an outdoor recreational activity in which participants use a global positioning system receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called “geocaches” or “caches,” at specific locations marked by coordinates.

Searching for coordinates in the Great Swamp might be why he had a phone in hand the night South Kingstown police talked to him while parked near the Great Swamp, McIntosh said.

He also noted that Mikey, rather than follow directions for simply recording online where geocaches were found or placed, also disrupted the game by removing them from locations around the state.

However, Mikey’s own online records show he never reported finding them in Great Swamp, he said.

About two miles into the swamp, McIntosh explained, searchers found dug out holes in the ground that might indicate someone looked for one. A rock had been moved down a hill where a recently-used water bottle lay.

However, on top of the hill was the geocache and perhaps too hard to see at night, McIntosh offered.

He also said a campfire site had been found and built in Boy Scout fashion, and there was some evidence of a fire starting in it, but not burning for long. Mikey had been a Scout.

What makes it certain Mikey was there, though, was an empty plastic bag for a half-inch dog line-like rope bought at Home Depot.

Found hanging top-side up in a briar patch, it was filled with about 2.5 inches of water from two days of previous rain, but without the rope in it, he said.

The purchase just before he disappeared was later traced to Mikey’s credit card. Store video footage later confirmed it was him.

McIntosh said police reported finding the rope about 125 yards from the open bag, he said.

Perhaps coinciding with all this, said McIntosh, could be Mikey’s disappointment in failing a state test for gun safety by one point. It happened just before he disappeared and he had picked out a gun he planned to buy, he said.

Neither his family nor McIntosh could say why he wanted to gun or what he planned to use it for. Police are limiting their comments while the case is still under investigation.

His disappearance comes with several clues and many behaviors complicated by a puzzling disease that alters a person’s sense of reality. It all adds to turmoil Mikey’s parents said they feel.

It all creates a narrative of assumptions and conjecture, probabilities and possibilities, but no firm, specific and real conclusions. It creates anxiety about how control — just an illusion in this case and disease — would help them protect a vulnerable child-turned-adult with compromising medical conditions.

The reality brings torture most days, said both parents. Michael Sr. has accompanied nearly all search parties and has often gone on bike riding through the jungle of the Great Swamp hoping to see something, to see anything related to Mikey.

Mikey’s sister, Gianna, set up a Go-Fund-Me page titled “Finding Michael Sinotte Jr,” two months ago to raise $1,000 to help buy water and food and any supplies for searches. It has raised about $525 so far.

On Tuesday, a group of volunteers, led by McIntosh, are returning to the swamp to see what it has concealed for the last four and a half years. They hope to find a body or are least parts that can bring some sense of resolution, McIntosh said.

“There are many clues about him being there, but it’s a very, very dangerous place. He could be under some covering, perhaps used to keep warm when he got tired the night he disappeared, but I think most likely he’s under or in the water at the swamp,” he said.

In the 16 seasons that have come and gone since Mikey vanished, body decomposition, lots of leaves, twigs, branches and animal disturbance could affect finding him.

Then there’s also trapping peat moss and perhaps even quicksand that can trap a person who would sink and disappear from the surface altogether, said McIntosh, who is doing the work for free.

If nothing is found, Mikey’s mother said she might stop looking — at least in the swamp where she’s pinned hopes for a discovery.

It’s a mother’s hope for holding on to the slipping and elusive chances of a reunion when control is all gone and hope blows away in the air of the day.

His father, though, said, “I believe he’s out there in that swamp somewhere. I just have this gut feeling we’ll find him someday.”

Michael’s mother in a moment of keeping that hope from drifting off countered, “Perhaps he just went there and someone else picked him up, and he has changed his identity and moved on and just doesn’t want anything to do with us.”

His father doesn’t think so. “He has no way to really survive or earn money or get medications or really take care of himself.”

The phone and credit card have never been used again.

Write to Bill Seymour, a freelance writer covering news and feature stories, at [email protected].

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