Family identifies body found in Costa Rica as missing US woman

Posted at 5:36 AM, Dec 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-05 07:39:14-05
 Carla Stefaniak
American Carla Stefaniak had been vacationing with her sister-in-law in Costa Rica. (Source: Courtesy April Burton)

The family of Carla Stefaniak, a US citizen reported missing while on vacation in Costa Rica, has confirmed that a body found there this week belongs to her.

It appears Stefaniak’s father was allowed to see the body of his 36-year-old daughter Tuesday night, according to a Facebook page that has been updated by a family friend.

“Words cannot express the devastation within her family and friends. We want the world to know that we will never forget Carla,” the post on Finding Carla says.

“We will never forget the joy she brought into our lives, how much she made us laugh. We will always be with her and we know she will always be with us. May God bless her soul.”

Earlier this week, Costa Rican authorities found a partially decomposed body about 300 meters away from the apartment complex where Stefaniak was staying but had not officially identified it, said Walter Espinoza, of Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Department.

Suspect in custody

A security guard from the Airbnb where Stefaniak was staying was arrested and remains in custody, officials said.

The man, who is a Nicaraguan national, was staying in the apartment next to Stefaniak’s rental. He was arrested after investigators noticed inconsistencies in his statements.

He is being held in jail because he is a flight risk, officials said.

Missing for a week

Authorities found Stefaniak’s body around noon Monday in a wooded area of the San Jose neighborhood of San Antonio de Escazu.

She was reported missing by her family in Florida last week. Relatives raised the alarm after she stopped texting and telephoning home and was not on her return flight from Costa Rica, where she had been vacationing.

Authorities found stains inside the apartment where Stefaniak was staying, “which are compatible with blood and which will be submitted to further investigation and comparison,” Espinoza said.

Birthday celebration

The last time anyone heard from Stefaniak was the night of Nov. 28, according to April Burton, her sister-in-law.

Burton told CNN the two were in Costa Rica to celebrate Stefaniak’s birthday, and had traveled together for six days.

Burton left the country on Nov. 28, and Stefaniak’s flight back to Florida was scheduled for the next day.

The two texted each other via WhatsApp throughout the day, Burton said, until Stefaniak suddenly stopped responding to her messages that evening.

Stefaniak did not board her flight home on Thursday.

“That’s when we knew that something’s not right,” Burton said. “You never want to think the worst, but that’s where your mind goes to automatically. We’re going on six days not hearing from her. That’s kind of where we are right now.”

Unusual behavior

Burton added: “For almost six days to go by and no contact, she would have to have been abducted. She is very active on social media, and for her, on the day of her birthday, to never log in to any of those accounts is just crazy.”

A US State Department representative had told CNN that officials were aware of the reports of a missing American in Costa Rica.

“When a US citizen is missing, we work closely with local authorities as they carry out their search efforts. We stand ready to provide all possible assistance to US citizens in need and to their families. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment,” the representative said.

Speaking Monday to HLN, CNN’s sister network, Burton described her sister-in-law as “a great person. So friendly, so bubbly, loves to travel, loves fashion, loves social media.”

CNN affiliate WFTS reported that a lawyer for the place where Stefaniak was staying said the facility is temporarily closed.

“The owners are fully cooperating with the authorities in the investigation and we hope that once the facts are determined, the perpetrator is brought to justice,” the attorney, who was not identified, told the Tampa station.