Body recovered from Presumpscot River identified as missing Portland man
Apr. 28—A body pulled out of the Presumpscot River last week belonged to a Portland man who had been missing for nearly six months.
Samuel Mugisha, 21, was last seen leaving his home at 246 Auburn St. on the morning of Nov. 4, Portland police said.
"Samuel was a wonderful boy," said Mugisha's uncle Claude Rwaganje, who has served as the family's main point of contact with the police. "I don't know how I'm going to share this news with my kids."
The Maine Office of Chief Medical Examiner has not yet determined a cause of death.
Mugisha came to the United States in 2014 from Nairobi, Kenya, and was part of the tight-knit Congolese Banyamulenge community in the Portland area. He attended Westbrook High School and played on the soccer team before attending and graduating college and starting a job as a full-time caretaker for people with physical and intellectual disabilities.
His family said he suffered from a mental illness that sometimes rendered him non-verbal, and caused him to forget where he was and faint.
Shortly before his disappearance, he had an episode of severe mental challenges and spent a week in a psychiatric hospital in Westbrook, his family said.
The evening before he went missing, he appeared quiet and unlike himself, according to his cousin and roommate, Heritier Itangishaka.
Rwaganje told the Press Herald in January that members of the Banyamulenge community were meeting regularly to discuss the case, but said there had been few developments.
Soon after a fisherman found a badly decomposed body floating in Falmouth on April 20, police told Rwaganje that the search for his nephew was likely over. The descriptions of a hoodie, shoes and cellphone found on the body convinced Rwaganje that it was Mugisha.
"It was definitely him," he said.
Still, during the week it took to collect DNA samples from Mugisha's parents in Kenya and use them to confirm the identity, the family remained in the emotional limbo that it's been stuck in since Mugisha went missing, Rwaganje said. Even as he tried to prepare his kids for the worst, Mugisha's father kept asking for updates, holding out hope that there would be no DNA match.
Rwaganje said police told him they confirmed the identity Friday morning, and he called Mugisha's parents early that afternoon to give them the news. Then, he prepared to address the community that had been closely following the case for months.
Mugisha's parents will not be able to mourn their son's death in person, he said.
After nearly six months of uncertainty, confirmation of Mugisha's fate has not yet provided any relief for those who cared about him, Rwaganje said. But he added that he is grateful for the opportunity to bury his nephew and to begin the healing process.
"It's painful to lose Samuel, but to lose Samuel without honoring his life is even harder," he said. "We've been in a pain which was endless. Now we're going to grieve."