By ERIN ROLL
Six days after a Montclair couple disappeared off the coast of St. James in Barbados, officials there have called off the search after failing to locate the couple or the jet ski they were last seen riding out to sea on.
What was supposed to be a relaxing vacation for the Montclair couple, has turned into a nightmare for their family.
Oscar Suarez and his girlfriend Magdalena Devil arrived in Barbados on Saturday, June 22, booking a room at Discovery Bay Hotel in St. James, to celebrate to celebrate Devil’s birthday.
On Monday, June 24, Suarez, 32, and Devil, 25, decided to rent a jet ski on Holetown Beach near the hotel.
They have not been seen since.
Standard practice is to conduct a search for 72 hours, according to island officials. The search was expanded to six days, or 144 hours, Barbados tourism minister Kerrie Symmonds said at a press conference with local media on Saturday, June 29. Police and Coast Guard officials were also in attendance. “It is a very large ocean out there, and you come to a point where mankind, in its frailty, cannot do any better,” said Symmonds.
The search, which included Barbados police, the Coast Guard, the Regional Security Services, the Coast Guard from St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Martinique, and the U.S. Air Force, was called off at sunset on Sunday, June 30.
Suarez and Devil’s relatives, some of which flew immediately to Barbados, are still seeking answers.
What authorities do know is that Suarez and Devil rented the jet ski and set off around 2:33 p.m. on June 24 for a half-hour ride, according to witnesses. When the couple did not return within the half-hour time limit, the jet ski operator became concerned and asked other jet ski company operators if they had seen Suarez and Devil. When no one reported seeing the couple, the jet ski operator called police.
Both Suarez and Devil were wearing life jackets when they set out, police said.
Hotel management at Discovery Bay also reported that the couple had not returned to the hotel. Police found some of the couple’s personal effects, including beach towels and sandals, on the beach, the family said.
The aerial and water-based search was conducted within 25 nautical miles of the area, including south to the harbor area near Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados. Authorities in neighboring St. Vincent and St. Lucia were also notified, and fishing boats and other vessels were asked to be on the alert.
The U.S. Embassy in Bridgetown and the State Department worked with law enforcement on the search, and have been in touch with the couple’s families.
“We are confident that every effort is being made to find these two individuals,” Linda Taglialatela, the U.S. ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, said in a statement released by the embassy last week. “We will keep them in our prayers and thoughts and let the police and the coast guard do what they need to do to handle the case.”
Nati Monzon, Suarez’s cousin, said it was not possible for a large jet ski to simply disappear.
The family feels there was a lack of urgency among local authorities in the search, alleging that the search did not take on urgency until the prime minister made a statement that the search would continue.
Monzon alleged that authorities didn’t try until Friday, June 28, three days after the disappearance, to ping Suarez and Devil’s cell phones. As of that day, authorities had not pulled footage from the security cameras on the beach area, nor had relatives been allowed into Suarez and Devil’s hotel room, she said.
Suarez’s family, including his sister Susanna Cruz and his mother Ninfa, arrived in Barbados on Wednesday, June 26, to meet with authorities and to ask residents and tourists for any information.
“On behalf of my parents and siblings, thank you all for your support and prayers. We still need them. Please continue to share especially if you have contacts in Barbados,” Cruz said in a Facebook post on June 26.
Devil’s father and other relatives have also flown to Barbados, Monzon said.
Suarez has two children, a 10-year-old son and a five-year-old daughter by a previous marriage, and is on good terms with his children’s mother, according to family. Monzon said Suarez makes a point of chatting with his children via Facetime every day.
His daughter cries for her father, Monzon said, and his son asks to speak to his father.
Suarez is the associate director of dining services with the Compass Group.
Devil, a baker, has an Instagram page dedicated to her work, and Monzon recalled how she created the birthday cake and cupcakes for Suarez’s daughter’s birthday party.
“She was a pleasure to be around,” Monzon said.
And some of Devil’s confections, including her miniature Oreo cheesecakes, were a hit with everyone who tasted them, Monzon said.
Suarez and Devil originally planned to fly to the Dominican Republic to celebrate Devil’s birthday, but changed their minds due to a spate of recent tourist deaths there. They were able to arrange an all-inclusive package trip to Barbados instead, said Monzon.
The family will continue posting on social media, and continue praying, Monzon said.
“We need answers. Our family doesn’t deserve this. Nobody deserves this,” she said.
The family is worried that media outlets are starting to lose interest in the story, but they continue to reach out to the media and are asking anyone with information to come forward.
The Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. reportedly flew family members to the island and is hosting and providing assistance to them in Barbados.
A GoFundMe page was established to help the family with their travel expenses, to hire a private investigator, an attorney and other legal services, and to provide financial assistance to Suarez’s mother.
Anyone with information about Suarez and Devil’s whereabouts is encouraged to call the Crime Stoppers Line at 1-877-TIPS or their local police station.