Authorities in Costa Rica have located a body in their search for an American woman who went missing while on vacation.
The body was found in a wooded area Monday as investigators combed through the region where Miami resident Carla Stefaniak, 36, spent what was supposed to be her final night in Costa Rica last week, Judicial Investigator Director Walter Espinoza said in a press conference. The remains belong to a woman, but they have not been positively identified, Espinoza said.
In addition, fluids found in the apartment where Stefaniak was staying have the consistency of blood, Epsinoza said.
Stefaniak traveled to Costa Rica to celebrate her 36th birthday, according to the family. She left for Costa Rica on Thanksgiving Day but had not been heard from since Tuesday, her brother, Carlos Caicedo, said.
Stefaniak’s sister-in-law, April Burton, accompanied her in Costa Rica, but Burton flew back one day early. Stefaniak and Burton are like “best friends,” Caicedo said, adding that his sister talks to his wife more than she talks to him. The pair had planned to stay in beach towns outside of San Jose, Caicdeo said, and they posted photos and video to social media, documenting their trip.
Stefaniak’s family had a feeling that something may be wrong after noticing that Stefaniak did not respond to any birthday messages on social media, Caicedo said.
Stefaniak, who is “always on the phone,” didn’t even read the good wishes Caicedo texted her on Wednesday, but he initially figured perhaps she was on her flight back to Florida, he said.
The next day, their other brother sounded “really worried” when he called, saying that Stefaniak never boarded her flight and that no one had spoken to her since the day before, Caicedo said.
In fact, Stefaniak hadn’t checked her WhatsApp messenger since 8:50 p.m. Tuesday, Caicedo said.
“It was weird that she didn’t message anybody,” Caicedo said. “It was her birthday.”
On Sunday, Burton wrote on Facebook that Stefaniak hadn’t used social media or Uber since she went missing, describing her use of the apps as “part of her daily routine.”
The family desperately searching for answers
On Thursday, the family created a Facebook group and GoFundMe page in efforts to find her, Caicedo said. He and a friend then bought flights to Costa Rica, where their first stop on Friday was to the U.S. Embassy and then to the police station and the hostel where Stefaniak spent her last night. His next plan is to contact local hospitals, he said.
Stefaniak’s father said he planned to fly to Costa Rica as well to search for answers.
During a press conference Friday, Costa Rica Judicial Investigation Department spokesperson Marisel Rodríguez said Stefaniak traveled to Costa Rica on Nov 22 spent a few days in the San Carlos area before returning to San Jose on Tuesday. Rodriguez retold the time Stefaniak left the hotel and what time her flight was supposed to leave, adding that investigators did not know anything more at the time.
The family has been in touch with the FBI, the U.S. Embassy in San Jose and Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Department, Burton said. They have also been in touch with the owner of the hostel and the security guards, Burotn added.
Caicedo asked that the U.S. Department of State and FBI to take this very seriously adding that the agencies have not been proactive in helping to find Stefaniak.
The State Department said in a statement that the protection of U.S. citizens overseas is its greatest responsibility.
“The U.S. Department of State and our embassies and consulates abroad have no greater responsibility than the protection of U.S. citizens overseas,” the statement read. “When a U.S. citizen is missing, we work closely with local authorities as they carry out their search efforts. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment.