Published August 10, 2011
The FBI announced Wednesday that it will assist the police force in Aruba currently investigating the disappearance of an American tourist.
Robyn Gardner, 35, disappeared and apparently drowned while snorkeling off the western tip of the island, the Aruban prosecutor's office said, according to interviews with Gary Giordano, a friend.
Giordano, who claimed to be her travel partner, was in jail on the Caribbean island Wednesday as authorities looked for clues to what happened to Gardner.
Aruban Solicitor General Taco Stein said authorities called off the active search for Gardner because they had no more leads to pursue.
"The suspect is standing by his story that they went snorkeling and that Robyn did not resurface," Stein said.
The prosecutor's office said it decided to detain Giordano on Friday, while he tried to leave Aruba, because of looming questions about information he gave police about the disappearance. Prosecutors have not said what prompted their suspicions.
Gardner's younger brother, Andrew Colson, said Giordano seemed too calm when his mother came to Aruba to help find her daughter.
"He didn't seem very sorrowful. He wasn't mournful or anything," Colson told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Odenton, Maryland.
Colson, who last saw his sister in May, said Aruban authorities asked them not to discuss the case in detail, but that they do not believe Giordano's account of what happened. He said she was unlikely to have been snorkeling in the first place.
"I think there's more to it," he said. "...She just wouldn't want to ruin her makeup or get her hair wet."
Giordano's Aruban lawyer, Michael Lopez, said his client was being unjustly held.
"Our client emphatically denies being involved in any malicious act concerning his friend and consequently does not consider himself a suspect," Lopez said in a written statement provided to The AP.
The two Americans had been in Aruba a couple of days when they decided to go snorkeling on Aug. 2 near an area known as Baby Beach, Lopez said. He said the pair eventually realized they were being pulled out to sea by the current and Giordano tapped on Gardner's leg to signal that they should swim back. When he got to shore, he noticed she wasn't with him and ran to get help after looking for her unsuccessfully in the water, the lawyer said.
Lopez said that in the following days, Giordano assisted with the search and answered questions from police. He said his client waited until the woman's mother arrived before he decided he should return to the U.S. Giordano says he was given permission to leave by an official at the U.S. consulate on the nearby island of Curacao, the lawyer said.
The U.S. vice consul, Winnie Hofstetter, declined to comment on the case.
Lopez said that after being detained, Giordano initially declined to cooperate further with prosecutors and police because he felt he was being wrongly detained.
"As judicial representative of our client we can say that after reading and analyzing everything there is until now in his case file, there is no concrete or direct indication that our client might be involved in any illicit act concerning his friend," Lopez said.
New video of the search obtained by the AP shows Giordano accompanying police as they searched the water around where he said Gardner disappeared.
Giordano is from Gaithersburg, Maryland. His lawyer said he runs an employment agency.
Gardner, a 5-foot-5-inch blonde with prominent tattoos on her arm, rib cage and right bicep, had worked in the past as a patient care coordinator at a dental office in Bethesda, Maryland, said Richard A. Forester, who said he was her boyfriend.
Forester said Gardner lived much of the time with him in Rockville, Maryland and had said that she and Giordano were platonic friends. The pair were scheduled to spend about five days in Aruba, Forester said.
"I'm starting to believe that's not true," Forester said in a phone interview. "I'm starting to believe there was some romantic thing."
Forester said he and Gardner had been in contact through Facebook until just before she disappeared. After she vanished, her Google Chat indicators showed she was active on Gmail, then on but not active, and finally off, he said. It seemed to indicate that she or someone else had been on her Gmail account, he said.
"I'm terrified as to what may have happened to her," he said. "I'm sad and scared that I might not see her again. I love her very much and all I am concerned about is that she gets home safely."
Gardner disappeared from the same resort town in Aruba where Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway was last seen six years ago. Holloway disappeared while on a senior class trip in May 2005. Her remains were never found and the main suspect, Joran van der Sloot, is in jail in Peru on charges of killing a 21-year-old woman last May.
The Associated Press contributed to this report