San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

3 years pass in case of missing U.S. citizen

From the print edition

Roma and Luda Gimelfarb keep coming back to Costa Rica as a reminder. They’re here to tell the public their son still is missing. And also to remind people that many countries lack a plan for reacting to the disappearance of foreigners within their borders. 

The Gimelfarbs revisited Costa Rica this week on the three-year anniversary of their son’s disappearance in Rincón de la Vieja National Park, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste. He has been missing since Aug. 11, 2009. Two years later, the family offered a $100,000 reward for help in finding out what happened to David Gimelfarb, who was 28 at the time of his disappearance.

Since then, the Gimelfarbs, who are from the U.S. city of Chicago, Illinois, have received tips, but supposed sightings are often reported too late to be of any help. 

“People call weeks later, months later,” Roma Gimelfarb told The Tico Times on Tuesday. “One guy called three years later.”

While traveling by himself in Costa Rica, David visited the well-known national park and signed a logbook there. His rental car was found abandoned at the park. His passport was discovered, but no trace of the doctoral student was found.

His parents said they were frustrated by how long it took authorities to react to reports that he had disappeared. Since then, the Gimelfarbs have set out to raise awareness about missing persons in foreign countries. 

Luda said when she and her husband first arrived in Costa Rica to search for their son, they received little help from officials. The family had to find a translator on their own. Luda said nobody could answer questions about what options the family had during the urgent days immediately after David’s disappearance. Luda, for example, said they wanted to know if the family could pay for dogs to help with the search, but nobody could provide them with an answer.

The Gimelfarbs said officials from different embassies they’ve spoken with about missing persons seem to have vague guidelines for reacting to incidents. They said the U.S. Embassy has been receptive during recent visits, but working with Costa Rican authorities remains a frustration.

Other family members of missing persons have reported similar experiences, such as David Dixon, whose brother Michael, a British citizen who disappeared after leaving his hotel room in Tamarindo, also in Guanacaste, on Oct. 18, 2009. The incident happened two months after David Gimelfarb vanished, and the Dixon family ran into similar hindrances as the Gimelfarbs, they said.

Luda said friends and family needed to bug representatives in the United States in order to receive any aid. After student demonstrations and hundreds of phone calls to local government officials, U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois arranged a search party that brought U.S. military helicopters and search dogs into Rincón de la Vieja. But no clues emerged. 

“We want to remind people that we’re searching, still looking for him,” Roma Gimelfarb said.

The Gimelfarbs are passing out posters showing a photo of David in August 2009 and another image of his possible likeness today. The poster also mentions the $100,000 reward, and notes that if anyone has information, they can call a confidential tip line at 8616-0658 or email

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