FLORIDA, USA, Wednesday March 2, 2016 – More than a month after the mysterious disappearance of an American tourist in the Dominican Republic, his family still has no information on his whereabouts.
Darryl Fornatora, a 46-year-old tennis instructor and avid surfer, arrived in Puerto Plata on January 25 with a friend and fellow surfing enthusiast, according to his family.
Fornatora, of Palm Beach, Florida, messaged family and friends on the day of his arrival and checked into a villa in the coastal town of Caberete with his travelling companion Matt Rigby.
Fox News reports that on January 26, after five hours surfing, an exhausted Fornatora messaged his mother, Nancy, who always worried about surfing accidents, to let her know he was out of the water.
Fornatora’s sister, Christina Hendrex, told Fox: “They had surfed for hours that day. It was epic. He was tired. He told my mom, ‘I love you.'”
That was reportedly the last time the family heard from him. What happened next is a mystery.
“We just want him to come home.” Darryl Fornatora’s parents talk about their missing son, last spoke to him on Tues. pic.twitter.com/OjBpBmynGP
— Katie Johnson (@Katie_Johnson_) February 1, 2016
Fornatora, who is 6-foot-4 and weighs 210 pounds, was scheduled to fly home with Rigby on January 31. But Rigby cut his trip short and returned to Florida alone on January 28. The missing man’s return ticket was neither used nor changed.
The following day, Rigby, of Jupiter, Florida, reportedly called Fornatora’s parents and said he had not seen or heard their son since the afternoon of January 27.
“He [Rigby] didn’t contact the embassy or police, which I don’t understand,” Hendrex said of her brother’s friend. “He also took some of Darryl’s things back with him, like his surfboard and his computer.”
The Fornatora family also claims that Rigby’s recollection of events has changed.
“The original story was that he left early because there was no surf and Darryl wanted to stay, but then it unfolded into something different,” Hendrex claims.
“The latest is that Darryl was acting paranoid and upset. Matt told him to ‘calm down’ and suggested they go into town. Then Matt said he turned his back and Darryl was just gone.”
The claims of paranoia were said to have been corroborated by other, unidentified witnesses, leading to rumours that Fornatora may have ingested a substance sprinkled on marijuana cigarettes that can put a user into a “voodoo-like trance.”
“Witnesses said he was acting paranoid, scared and fearful for his safety,” Hendrex said. “We don’t know if it was a situation where that was an induced state of paranoia or he had something genuinely to be fearful of.”
“Nobody knows the answer to that,” she added.
The Palm Beach Post sought to compare Fornatora’s case to that of Patrick Brown, a 37-year-old Canadian who ingested a substance while on vacation in the Dominican Republic in April. After showing signs of paranoia, Brown reportedly hid in a jungle area for six days before he was found by authorities.
Police probing Fornatora’s disappearance have given no indication that they are seriously pursuing the marijuana theory.
Search and rescue crews, including divers, helicopters and planes, have scoured the coast and surrounding reefs for any sign of Fornatora.
Local authorities have ruled out drowning for the missing American, an experienced surfer and swimmer who works as the director of the Lake Park Tennis Center in Lake Park, Florida.
The US Embassy in Santo Domingo declined to comment on an ongoing investigation.
Hendrex, who recently travelled to the Dominican Republican from her El Paso, Texas, home to help in the search, described the family’s ordeal as “agonizing.”
“I don’t know what to think and that’s what is so heartbreaking,” Hendrex said. “We do not have enough information to lead us in any direction.”
“We’re really struggling. Being in a state of limbo and having no answers is torture,” she said.
A reward equalling about US$4,500 has been offered in the Dominican Republic for information leading to the discovery of Fornatora’s whereabouts.
Family and friends have also taken to social media, setting up a Facebook page devoted to the search.