Thursday, September 18, 2014

Tip of the Day: What To Do if a Loved One, Family Member or Friend Disappears Abroad

Roma and Luda Gimelfarb keep returning to Costa Rica as a reminder. They’re here to remind the public about the disappearance of their son, David, who, after five years, is still among the missing.

Even more so, the parents' return to Costa Rica is to remind all people that many countries lack a plan for reacting to the disappearance of foreigners within their borders.

David Gimelfarb disappeared in the Rincón de la Vieja National Park, in Costa Rica's northwestern province of Guanacaste on August 11, 2009.

David parents, who are from Chicago, at one juncture offered a $100,000 reward for help in finding out what happened to their son, who was 28 at the time of his disappearance.

Since then, the Gimelfarbs, who are from Chicago, IL, have received tips, but supposed sightings are often reported too late to be useful or productive. “People call weeks later, months later,” Roma Gimelfarb told The Tico Times.

COMMENT: The best advice I can offer to the families and friends of foreign travelers who have disappeared abroad is this:

1. Expect very, very little assistance from your diplomatic or consular representatives, unless your nation is relatively small and exceptionally compassionate;

2. I continue to assist families and friends of the disappeared. For a FREE 30-minute consultation, please call Ed Lee on:


3. The moment that your loved one is reported as missing, contact an international security consultant who is experienced in finding missing persons ABROAD, as time is crucial before leads dissipate;

4. Yes, I do have contacts with detection dogs, providing that family or friends have a piece of material or apparel from the missing person that is contained in a sealed plastic bag;

5. A trusted interpreter is essential. Find one at the below link: 

American Translators Association

LLE Language Learning Enterprises LLC 
Is the second largest provider of over-the-phone foreign language link-ups in the US.
LLE's sister affiliates, specialize in healthcare and business.

To contact LLE please call (866) 998-0334 or go to:

Far too many young adult tourists travel alone. This is really not a prudent notion particularly for those who have little life experience to rely upon. 

I'm 70 years of age and have spent a lifetime investigating the dark side of people.

My first job after six years in the US Marines was as a US Department of State special agent and later on as a Senior Regional Security Officer (SRSO), director of agent training and ultimately as Chief Investigator of the US Cyprus Missing Persons Project based in Nicosia where I found the remains of a young American who had been missing for 25 years.

Many times I have picked up the phone to call Roma and Luda Gimelfarb and tell them what? "I have experience in successfully finding missing people all over the world, but I don't work for free? Hardly comforting!"

I could also tell still-grieving parents who will never accept the fact that their son is dead and may have encountered "really bad people" and was perhaps all-too trusting of them only to have been killed in hundreds of ways. 

Traveling solo, David Gimelfarb in Costa Rica, David visited the well-known national park and signed a logbook there. His rental car was found abandoned at the park. His passport was discovered, but no trace of the doctoral student was ever found. That was 5+ years ago!

What I have learned in my 70 years is traveling solo in the world is fraught with insurmountable risks that young travelers cannot even begin to fathom, which is why I discourage SOLO travel abroad to the extent that you do.

David's parents said they were frustrated by how long it took authorities to react to reports that he had disappeared. Since then, the Gimelfarbs have set out to raise awareness about missing persons in foreign countries. 

Luda said when she and her husband first arrived in Costa Rica to search for their son, they received little help from officials. The family had to find a translator on their own. Luda said nobody could answer questions about what options the family had during the urgent days immediately after David’s disappearance. Luda, for example, said they wanted to know if the family could pay for dogs to help with the search, but nobody could provide them with an answer.

The Gimelfarbs said officials from different embassies they’ve spoken with about missing persons seem to have vague guidelines for reacting to incidents. They said the US Embassy has been receptive during recent visits, but working with Costa Rican authorities remains a frustration.

Other family members of missing persons have reported similar experiences, such as David Dixon, whose brother Michael, a British citizen who disappeared after leaving his hotel room in Tamarindo, also in Guanacaste, on October 18, 2009. 

The incident happened two months after David Gimelfarb vanished, and the Dixon family ran into similar hindrances as the Gimelfarbs, they said.

Luda said friends and family needed to bug representatives in the United States in order to receive any help at all. 

After student demonstrations and hundreds of phone calls to local government officials, US Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) arranged a search party that brought US military helicopters and search dogs into Rincón de la Vieja. But no clues emerged, very likely because so much time had passed.

If anyone has leads, please contact Roma and Luda at: