CABARETE, Dominican Republic, Monday March 21, 2016 – Officials in the Dominican Republic have reportedly turned up the jets on the search for a missing Florida surfer after the discovery of his wallet last Thursday.
WPEC-TV reported that a wallet belonging to Darryl Fornatora, a 46-year-old Palm Beach tennis instructor, contained his driver’s license, credit cards and hundreds of dollars in cash with burn marks. The wallet was reportedly found by a local diver in Cabarete.
Fornatora disappeared in mysterious circumstances on January 27 and the discovery of his wallet has been the first piece of substantial evidence found in the case.
According to his family, Fornatora and his friend and fellow surfing enthusiast Matt Rigby arrived in Puerto Plata on January 25 and checked into a villa in Caberete.
Fox News reported 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. That was reportedly the last time the family heard from him. Fornatora 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.
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Local authorities have ruled out drowning for the missing American, an experienced surfer and swimmer who worked as the director of the Lake Park Tennis Center in Lake Park, Florida.
The latest development in the search for Fornatora has left his family more concerned than relieved.
“I decided I would check Facebook and opened it up and saw the evidence that they have found his wallet,” Darryl’s mother, told WPTV.
“Everything was just right out there and I thought that we would get a warning or something prior to something like that happening. But we did not and it was rather shocking.”
Gilbert Fornatora, Darryl’s father, also expressed concerns over the case, describing the latest news as “very strange.”
“It’s very strange that after 49 days, with some visits down there and some communication between so-called witnesses of Darryl’s whereabouts in the last day, that all of these things seem to have occurred right after some notoriety,” Gilbert told WPTV.
WPEC-TV reported that the discovery of Fornatora’s wallet led authorities to plan for dive crews to search the area again. Murky waters stopped divers from searching the area on Friday.
The family had previously questioned the story about Fornatora’s disappearance, given by fellow surfer, Rigby.
They said he called Fornatora’s s parents and said he had not seen or heard him since the afternoon of January 27.
“He [Rigby] didn’t contact the embassy or police, which I don’t understand,” Fornatora’s sister Christina Hendrex told Fox News at the time. “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 Dominican Republic National Police Department is leading the investigation into the disappearance of Fornatora and is sharing its information with the US Embassy. The Fornatora family is supposed to get updates from the embassy as new information trickles in.
The family is still hopeful that further information will come to light soon. A $25,000 reward is being offered for information leading to Fornatora, WPEC-TV reported.