New York police investigators said a badly burned body found in a Staten Island storage facility Thursday is believed to be that of a missing teacher last seen over the weekend -- and investigators are seeking murder charges against her estranged husband.
Jeanine Cammarata, 37, was last seen alive around 9 p.m. Saturday near McVeigh and Nehring avenues in Staten Island, according to New York Police Department officials. CBS New York reported that Cammarata's boyfriend last saw her when she dropped him off at his apartment that night.
The Staten Island Advance reported that Cammarata was supposed to pick two of her children up from her husband, Michael Cammarata, at his home in Queens that night. The children, a 7-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son, live with their father and his girlfriend.
Jeanine Cammarata also has a third child from a previous relationship.
The New York Post reported that Cammarata vanished just days after serving Michael Cammarata with divorce papers. Michael Cammarata, 42, is in police custody in connection with an alleged assault of his wife prior to her disappearance.
Police officials said Thursday afternoon that the missing person probe has pivoted into a homicide investigation.
Jeanine Cammarata’s family and friends are now awaiting a positive identification of the body, which the New York Daily News reported was “charred and unidentifiable.”
"All I could think about was the kids and my heart broke," Eric Gansberg, Jeanine Cammarata's divorce attorney, told the Advance.
Jeanine Cammarata, a teacher at P.S. 29 in Staten Island, did not show up for work at the school Monday, the CBS affiliate reported. She also failed to show at her part-time job at a Dollar Tree store.
The missing woman was absent from a Monday court hearing regarding custody of the Cammaratas' children, her sister, Christine Ross, told the news station.
"I last talked to her Friday morning," Ross said. "We were talking about her visiting me here in Alabama so she could see me because I haven't seen her in quite some time. She was thinking of bringing her kids with her as well for the week. They have off for vacation."
Jeanine Cammarata’s friend and landlord, Jose Perez, told CBS New York he had not seen her white 2017 Chevy Cruz parked outside her apartment since last week.
"She would always text me, let me know if she was going somewhere," Perez said. "That's why I couldn't believe she was actually missing."
Perez said it is not in Cammarata’s character to disappear on her own.
“She would never run away,” Perez told the news station. “She got her kids, she would never do that.”
The missing woman's roommate said she received messages from Cammarata's phone Monday saying she was all right, but she did not believe it was her friend writing the messages. Jessica Pobega told PIX11 News that the Facebook messages indicated her friend was with "Mike and the kids," but the author of the messages refused to call her or answer the phone so Pobega could ensure Jeanine Cammarata was OK.
PIX11 reported that a law enforcement source told the news station Michael Cammarata was seen on surveillance footage from Extra Space Storage, the facility where the body was found. The charges for which he is jailed are not directly related to Jeanine Cammarata's disappearance, but CBS New York reported the assault charge was filed after Michael Cammarata admitted hitting his estranged wife the night she disappeared.
The CBS affiliate reported that its own police sources say Michael Cammarata and an unnamed second person were seen in surveillance footage unloading a heavy-looking bag at the storage facility. He and another unnamed person were seen in additional video removing that same bag from an address in Queens, the news station reported.
The Daily News reported that the video showed Michael Cammarata and his potential accomplice leaving his Rockaways apartment with a plastic storage bin and later showing up with the bin at the storage facility.
Police K-9 officers led investigators to the body, which the newspaper reported was found in a plastic storage container inside one of the facility's storage lockers. The bin was surrounded by air fresheners to mask the smell of the remains, the newspaper said.
Michael Cammarata's girlfriend reportedly tipped police off about the storage locker, the newspaper said.
Gansberg said his client hired him late last year to represent her in her divorce. She told him she left the family home in mid-2017 because of domestic violence.
"She was terrified of him," Gansberg told PIX11 of Michael Cammarata.
She was comfortable leaving her children with their father, however, so they could stay in the home they were familiar with, Gansberg said Wednesday, prior to the discovery of the body.
Gansberg said he feared the worst when he learned his client was missing.
"My greatest fear is I will not be speaking to Jeanine again," Gansberg said.