A missing South Florida woman was confirmed dead after her body was found near the Airbnb where she was staying in Costa Rica, government officials said.
Late Tuesday night, Costa Rican authorities finally allowed Carla Stefaniak’s family to view and identify her body. Stefaniak’s father Carlos confirmed that the body belonged to his daughter and posted a message to the Facebook page, Finding Carla.
“It’s now official,” the post began. “Words cannot express the devastation within her family and friends. We want the world to know that we will never forget Carla. We will never forget the joy she brought into our lives, how much she made us laugh. We will always be with her and we know she will always be with us.”
The post went on to insist that Stefaniak’s family will remain dedicated to seeking justice and expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support. “We will make sure this case is not closed like many others in Costa Rica. But for now, just know that Carla and her family is grateful for all you have done for her. We truly appreciate the support. Please pray for Carla and for her family.”
Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Department (OIJ) also identified the body as that of the 36-year-old Hallandale Beach woman who went missing during her vacation in San Jose on the night of Nov. 27. Her body was found Monday near the apartment building she was staying in, buried and wrapped in plastic.
Investigators say a security guard at the complex was detained as of 11 p.m. Monday as part of the homicide investigation. Costa Rica’s government spokesperson Walter Espinoza said the guard was identified as 32-year-old Bismarck Espinosa Martinez, a Nicaraguan who immigrated to Costa Rica in June. According to OIJ, Martinez became the prime suspect after he gave authorities contradictory accounts.
“He presented many contradictions,” Espinosa said. “As of that moment, he became a suspect.”
According to authorities, investigators raided his apartment, Apt. #7, which was next door to the apartment where Stefaniak was staying, Apt. #8.
“In her apartment, we found blood,” Espinosa said. “Three hundred meters away we found her body.”
Autopsy results showed Stefaniak died from injuries to the “neck, head and extremities,” and also indicated she was injured by some type of weapon, Espinosa said. He noted that the case still remains under investigation and that the FBI is also investigating.
Stefaniak, who worked in a Dania Beach insurance agency, was celebrating her birthday in Costa Rica with her sister-in-law, April Burton. Stefaniak was supposed to board a plane back to Miami on Nov. 28 but never did.
Since her disappearance, thousands of people gathered online to help find her; the hashtag #FindingCarla began to circulate.
Stefaniak’s family and friends, who live in Tampa, did not hear from her after she texted them from her Airbnb rental on the night of Nov. 27 to say the power was going in and out. Stefaniak’s sister-in-law had returned to Florida the day before.
“Stefaniak dropped Burton off at the airport in San Jose on Nov. 27 and returned their rental car. Stefaniak then took an Uber to an Airbnb about 30 minutes from the airport,” said Katie Gardner, the family’s spokesperson. “The same Uber driver drove Stefaniak sightseeing and shopping.”
According to Gardner, Stefaniak texted her family updates and photos throughout the late afternoon. The last text from Stefaniak came in around 8 p.m.
“At midnight Eastern time, Burton texted Stefaniak to wish her a happy birthday but did not receive a response,” Gardner said. “The next day, Burton got a call from a friend who said Stefaniak had not responded to any happy birthday texts or messages. Alarmed, they discovered Stefaniak had never boarded her flight home, which was scheduled for departure around 1 p.m. on Nov. 28.”
Stefaniak’s father and brother flew to Costa Rica. They attempted to see the body at the morgue but initially Costa Rican authorities prevented them from viewing the body, according to Laura Jaime, a close friend of Stefaniak’s.
Stefaniak immigrated to Tampa from Venezuela in 2000. She moved to South Florida in 2012.