San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Family returns to honor anniversary of their son's disappearance and keep hope alive

When David Gimelfarb disappeared on Aug. 11, 2009, after entering the Rincón de la Vieja National Park in Guanacaste, volunteers from the Costa Rican Red Cross combed the park for days looking for signs of the 28-year-old psychology doctoral student.

Back in his native Chicago, Ill., David’s friends organized demonstrations and lobbied their congressman to mobilize resources for the search. The U.S. military sent helicopters from a U.S. military base in Honduras to assist in the search.

Volunteers raised thousands of dollars that would eventually grow to a $100,000 reward for information leading to David’s whereabouts.

Despite these efforts, however, the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) ended its investigation and closed the case in November 2009.

Now, four years later, David Gimelfarb’s mother and father return to Costa Rica every year to do the difficult work of keeping the search going for a son they are convinced is still alive.

“We’re here to organize a campaign to let the Costa Rican people know that we are here, that we are looking for our son,” distribute fliers, conduct radio and television interviews, and “tell people we believe he is alive,” said Luda Gimelfarb, David’s mother.

“There’s no evidence he’s not” alive, said David’s father, Roma. “If he left the park, he should be alive.”

David Gimelfarb poster

The Gimelfarb family has been circulating this poster, which includes a computer simulation of what David could look like today. Courtesy of the Gimelfarb family 

The family focused their efforts on searching the volcanic national park the first year on foot, with dogs, and from the air using helicopters from the U.S. military and another private one. Since then, they have broadened their search to the rest of Guanacaste, Costa Rica and other Central American countries, distributing missing person fliers through U.S. embassies and volunteers.

While David supposedly is without a passport, the family believes it’s possible that he could have crossed the border into Nicaragua or Panama.

“There was a Polish man who went missing in Guatemala and a Costa Rican woman found him [in San José] and took him to the CIMA clinic. He was found all because someone took the time to help him,” said Luda, fortified in her belief that her son is still alive.

The family takes some measure of solace in stories that trickle in of a man matching David’s description in Guanacaste, and most recently Limón, but are frustrated when time and again police release the man without taking photographs, or contacting the OIJ.

Accompanied by members of the U.S. Embassy in San José on Wednesday, the Gimelfarbs met with Vice Minister of Public Security Walter Navarro, who they planned to ask that authorities contact the U.S. mission when an individual is found matching David’s description and hold him for at least 24 hours.

The Gimelfarbs told The Tico Times they want the OIJ to reopen David’s case.

“The OIJ still has plenty of leads to follow up on,” opined Roma.

Along with reopening the investigation, the Gimelfarbs asked Costa Rican authorities to require hikers in national parks to rent GPS bracelets that would facilitate search-and-rescue operations. 

U.S. Embassy Information Officer Eric Turner told The Tico Times the mission has assisted the family in arranging meetings with senior officials at the Ministry of Public Security, the Prosecutor’s Office and Costa Rican media outlets to raise awareness of David’s case.

“David is never far from the thoughts of many here at the Mission. His ‘Missing Person’ poster hangs in our Embassy. We extend our heartfelt sympathies and concern for the Gimelfarb family as they struggle through this ordeal,” said Turner.

Roma told The Tico Times that they hope to create a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping others find loved ones lost abroad.

The American Citizen Services of the U.S. Embassy in San José reports that there are at least two other cases of unsolved missing U.S. citizens in Costa Rica since David disappeared in 2009.

In the meantime, however, Luda and Roma will retrace their annual route back to Hotel Guachipelín, where David stayed near Rincón de la Vieja, handing out fliers and speaking with people, hoping for some clue as to what happened to their son. 

Please report any tips to the family by emailing or calling the OIJ at 800-8000-645. 

Contact Zach Dyer at

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