TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Mere hours have passed since they heard the harrowing news of her death.
But those who loved and cared for 83-year-old Mary Migatulski were already reminiscing about her harsh reality.
"Alzheimer's is a prison within yourself. It's a horrible disease that no one should really have to go through," said her niece and caretaker, Barb Molitoris. "As difficult as it is to be a caretaker for someone with it, it's more difficult for the person. Because even when you're out of the room that person is still living in it."
Migatulski did not go through it alone. Molitoris had been caring for her since January 2018, when she took Mary in to her west Tucson home, all the way from Pennsylvania, when no one could look out for the elderly woman.
On Monday, May 21, Molitoris had discovered that Migatulski was able to sneak out a back bedroom door that normally stayed locked. That same evening, a Silver Alert was issued to try and find the 83-year-old woman, who had wandered off into the vast desert near the home.
According to Tucson Police, Migatulski was found dead in the desert, less than a mile away from where she was reported missing.
The Tucson Police Department said there are no signs of foul play but the investigation is ongoing to determine the cause of death.
Migatulski, who had Alzheimer's, was last seen in the 2500 block of Broken Arrow Trail, near Ironwood Hill Drive and Shannon Road.
Her niece said every day was a struggle to keep her safe.
"She was very confused about distance, time, names. Those things she couldn't do anything about. She wanted to walk home from Arizona to Pennsylvania because she had no clue she couldn't do that,"
Molitoris said. "It's extremely sad. I know that she's in a better place right now but it doesn't feel good to us."
The Regional Director of the Southern Arizona Alzheimer's Association said the family takes the brunt of the pain in these situation.
"The first thing that comes to mind in these situations is just the hardship on the family," Morgen Hartford said.
It's why he was quick to talk about resources that are available.
Hartford praised the MedicAlert jewelry system that helps with connecting a wandering person with their caregivers.
"A person with Alzheimer's may not remember his or her name or address, and can become disoriented, even in familiar places. Wandering among people with dementia is dangerous, but there are strategies and services to help prevent it," the Alzheimer's Association website stated. "Six in 10 people with dementia will wander."
"It's an incredibly dangerous aspect of the disease," Hartford said. "We know that families could do everything right in these situations and it would still be a risk."
Risky, yet the family is still stunned. Barb Molitoris said she had been fighting a legal battle to gain guardianship and power of attorney over her aunt, to be able to make important decisions in her life.
"It took a while to get that. It tied my hands in what I could do. I didn't legally have the right to hold her here and yet she was a danger to herself," Molitoris said.
She explained it's something she wish could have been started sooner, before Migatulski's mental health declined, but she was unable to because she only began caring for her in January and it was too late.
As her caretaker she cared to the bitter end.
"I know that she's with her husband and her mother and she's with God. She's at the feet of Jesus right now," Molitoris said. "That's a comfort but yet there's hurt inside, because we love her and we'll miss her."
Family said Migatulski's body will be taken back to Pennsylvania to be buried alongside her late husband.