By Ken MacLeod

EVERETT (CBS) – Gamblers looking to win big at Encore Boston Harbor often wind up losing instead. But what one woman lost over the weekend at the casino in Everett was priceless.

“This was my best friend,” says Julianna Paniss.

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The surgical technician at Children’s Hospital is talking about a special pendant she lost while attending a Saturday night birthday celebration at the casino.

“I was just in shock,” she says, “and I kind of went crazy looking for it.”

Pendant Julianna Paniss lost at Encore Boston Harbor casino (WBZ-TV)

The pendant is actually a tiny urn. And inside, are the ashes of her lifelong friend, Gage Densmore, a 22-year-old father who crashed last December driving to her Christmas party – and died several days later.

“It’ll always be something that hurts,” Paniss says.

But it hurt less to have her childhood friend from Blackstone around her neck – until the clasp broke either late Saturday night or early Sunday morning at Encore — and the ashes vanished.

Julianna Paniss (WBZ-TV)

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“It was just a little piece of him that makes me feel closer,” says Paniss fighting back tears. “Because it’s hard.”

She’s been back to the casino – where staffers have searched, scoured security video, and queried the cleanup crew. They’ve even checked the cabs in which Paniss arrived and left. But no luck.

“The worst part,” she says, “is that it’s just like he’s out there.”

In the meantime, Paniss says it’s a bit like losing Gage – again.

“That’s why this means so much,” she says.

She’s now expanded her hunt to Facebook, praying someone will spot the pendant – and return her friend.

“That would be really nice,” she says with a brief smile.

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Paniss says the staff at Encore Boston Harbor has been nothing but helpful and patient – considering she calls twice a day hoping for good news.

Ken MacLeod