The parents of a United Kingdom woman who vanished from the U.S. Virgin Islands in March demanded answers Friday in a case that has gone virtually nowhere and called on her boyfriend to allow police to perform a forensic search on his yacht, where she was living.
"There are no words for our suffering," Brenda Street and Peter Heslop said in a joint statement Friday. "We want, need and demand answers."
Their daughter Sarm Heslop, 41, was last seen leaving the 420 to Center bar on St. John at around 10 p.m. on March 7 with her boyfriend, Ryan Bane, 44.
"When I received the phone call from Bane that Sarm was missing, I had a complete meltdown, crying, screaming and then a numbness," Street said. "I still cannot understand the time lost in contacting the Virgin Islands Coastguard. If I had woken to find my partner missing, off a boat, I would have shouted and screamed to attract attention, even let off a flare. ... Why didn’t he? I will never forgive Bane for failing to protect my daughter."
The two were staying on his 47-foot catamaran, the Siren Song, which was moored nearby. Bane reported Heslop missing to police around 2:30 a.m. the following morning – but allegedly didn’t call the U.S. Coast Guard to report she may have gone overboard until around midday.
Heslop was a strong swimmer, her parents said, and Frank Bay, where the boat was anchored about 100 yards offshore, is shallow and was calm the night she vanished.
"My days are consumed by what happened in the hours between Bane finding Sarm missing and Bane calling the Coast Guard," said Peter Heslop. "Why didn’t he shout for help or sound an alarm to notify the two other boats moored close by that Sarm was missing? …No one but Bane can explain why he didn’t call the Coast Guard until eight hours after speaking to the police on land."
Through his attorney, Bane has maintained that he had nothing to do with Heslop’s disappearance and that the ordeal has left him "devastated" and "heartbroken."
Peter Heslop said that Bane told him of his daughter’s disappearance on March 9. He said he was told they’d gone out to dinner and returned to the boat to watch a movie.
"Bane alleged that at [2 a.m.] he heard noises, went on deck to check, found nothing and returned to find Sarm missing," he said. "Ryan told me that he had reported Sarm missing to the police but was told nothing can be done for 48 hours."
Police told him to contact the U.S. Coast Guard. The USCG said it got the call about "a possible person in the water" at around 11:45 a.m. A massive search of land and sea found nothing.
Nearly five months later, with little progress in the missing person investigation, Heslop’s parents, friends and other relatives are growing anxious.
"When your daughter goes missing from her boyfriend’s boat in the USVI, whilst moored 100 meters from shore, with no evidence, no clues and no answers it is the most traumatizing, confusing and upsetting time imaginable," Street said.
And the parents said they’ve received no explanation from police or from their daughter’s boyfriend "how a healthy young lady, his girlfriend, went missing without a trace."
"They say time heals, but not when your daughter is missing," Peter Heslop said. "How can you move on when you have no answers to so many questions?"
In their quest for answers, Heslop’s parents are asking Bane to voluntarily submit to a "full forensic search" of the Siren Song – something he is not legally obligated to do. Bane has not been charged with a crime in connection with her disappearance, and police said back in April that they "would need to have probable cause" to compel a search.
"I ask that Bane comes forward to allow a forensic search to take place," Street added. "He has a duty to protect people aboard his boat and a search of his boat is surely only going to help find his girlfriend and our daughter."
Law enforcement experts have said it should have been relatively easy for local police to obtain a search warrant for the boat.
"They have enough probable cause, I think," Jerry Forrester, a former FBI agent and private investigator who has worked extensively in the Caribbean, told Fox News three weeks after the woman’s disappearance. "She’s missing, and she was on that boat. ... They’re just not doing their job."
Police have since said they have not concluded whether Heslop returned to the Siren Song the night she went missing, although in recent interviews they have begun referring to him as a "person of interest."
Bane was also convicted of the domestic assault of his ex-wife Corie Stevenson in 2011 after police found her with a chipped tooth, scratches on her face and neck and other injuries. In multiple interviews, she claimed he was physically and verbally abusive, quick to anger and that "he will lie about everything."
Police and Virgin Islands prosecutors have not responded to questions about whether they ever sought a warrant to search the Siren Song.
But investigators did tell Fox News last week they wanted to speak with Bane again in connection with the case.
"As this is an ongoing investigation, the Virgin Islands Police Department maintains that we would like to interview Ryan Bane, as he was the last person to have contact with Ms. Heslop," VIPD spokesman Toby Derima told Fox News on Friday.
Bane was also cited by the Coast Guard for allegedly blocking full access to his vessel and other violations as part of a routine search after Heslop was reported missing.
"Our boarding team was denied full access to complete a full safety check of the vessel by the operator," Lt. Cmdr. Jason Neiman, a Coast Guard spokesman, told Fox News last week. "It was an administrative boarding and so penalties, even if not yet fully adjudicated, are not criminal in nature and typically meant to correct a safety deficiency."
Bane’s attorney David Cattie countered that it was his client who called the Coast Guard to the catamaran to begin with.
"Multiple officers boarded the vessel and they conducted an on-site inspection of the vessel and an on-sight interview without limitation," he said last Friday. "We have not received any preliminary assessment or fine for any alleged violations. If and when one is received, we will respond accordingly."
Cattie did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new statement from Heslop’s parents.
At the end of their statement, Heslop’s parents thanked the Coast Guard, Virgin Islands police and the local community for their help thus far in the search for Sarm.
Anyone with information on her whereabouts is asked to contact the U.S. Virgin Islands Police Department or Crime Stoppers USVI at (800) 222-TIPS.
Heslop is 5 feet, 8 inches tall with a slim build, brown hair and a bright-colored tattoo on her left shoulder that includes a seahorse, a butterfly, a bird and a pink flower.
Friends have set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise reward money for information that cracks the case.