Valerie Lombardo died alone on the banks of the Penobscot River sometime between April 2 and when her body was found on April 4. Her family is seeking an autopsy to determine the cause of death. Credit: Courtesy of the Lombardo family

Valerie Lombardo died alone on the banks of the Penobscot River sometime between April 2 and when her body was found on April 4.

Her family wants to know whether she died of an overdose or exposure or something else. To find that out will cost the Lombardos $6,750 for a private autopsy.

Stephanie Lombardo, who is married to Valerie’s twin brother, Robert Lombardo, has opened a GoFundMe account to help raise the money. As of 5 p.m. Monday, $230 had been raised from 10 donors.

Officials told the family that Valerie either overdosed or died of exposure, Stephanie said Monday.

Valerie was born in Burlington, Vermont, and was the only girl in a family of five. She never married and never had children.

“She was raised in a houseful of boys by her single mom,” Stephanie said Monday. “She was a tomboy and wanted to be like them.’

When Valerie and Robert were 10 and 11, the family moved to Milford. They graduated from Old Town High School but Valerie already was having mental health issues and showing signs of substance use disorder, according to Stephanie. Over the years, she received treatment at Northern Light Acadia Hospital.

Valerie lived with her mother, Sally Lombardo, in Milford until she was about 30, and after that was able to live on her own for several years, her sister-in-law said. But Sally’s death in September 2016, followed two years later by the sudden death of her oldest brother, Peter Lombardo of Stetson at the age of 43, destabilized Valerie’s life again.

She was in and out of jail and in and out of Acadia in the past few years.

“The last time we saw her was in January when she asked for $20,” Stephanie said. “She’s been couch surfing the last year and homeless, trying to get services, but her social anxiety made it hard for her.”

The last people who had contact with Valerie were Brewer police officers and a cab driver on the night of April 2, according to Stephanie. Brewer police allegedly found her intoxicated at a Brewer grocery story, put her in a cab and told the driver to drop her off at the homeless encampment under the Interstate 395 bridge.

But the driver dropped her off at the wrong place further downriver, according to Stephanie.

“The last time she was seen, she was making angels in the snow,” she said Monday.

The Brewer police did not immediately return a phone call Monday seeking information on the incident.

Adding to the family’s anguish is the inability to gather together to mourn and hold a funeral because of restrictions in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

In addition to that, Stephanie said on the GoFundMe page that the family believes the state has refused to do an autopsy because her sister-in-law was a “homeless addict.”

“The medical examiner believed it was okay to just look her over, take a few pictures and some urine and determine that because she was a homeless addict then it must be one of those two reasons,” she wrote. “Forget the fact that her 43-year-old brother passed away two years ago [from] heart disease and she was just told at the ER a month prior that she had an infection in her heart.”

It is up to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to determine whether an autopsy is needed or not. State law requires autopsies on children under the age of 3 who are not under medical care, and in deaths police classify as suspicious due to signs of trauma on the body.

A spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office did not comment on Monday specifically on Lombardo’s case, saying only that the decision to perform an autopsy “can vary case by case” and is made by either the chief medical examiner or the deputy chief medical examiner.

Valerie’s body was examined at a Bangor funeral home by one of 50 field medical examiners who work on a contract basis for the medical examiner’s office. Urine was taken for toxicology testing, according to Stephanie. The family has not been provided the results.

“We truly believe Val, like every human, deserves to have someone working to find why her life was cut short,” Stephanie said. “Why should we have to wonder how she died? We feel like she’s being forgotten.”

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