Looking for People and Answers
Last week, a U.S. citizen (whose name I will not mention out of respect for his family) pulled an idiotic stunt on the island of Roatan in the Bay Islands of Honduras. The vacationer, very intoxicated, got into an argument with his girlfriend and stormed out into the night without cash or his cellphone and didn't return.
You may know Roatan from posts here as a place that is aggressively marketed as a safe, inexpensive destination to vacation and retire. "It's not Honduras, it's Roatan," the island's ex-pat business owners like to say, neglecting always to mention the almost complete lack of safety infrastructure and a legal system that is as much a part of the problem as the island's criminal element -- which, in privacy, islanders and expats alike will tell you is out of control.
Roatan's crime problem recently has received some media attention as tourists and cruise line personnel have become victims. Historically, most of the crime there has been islander-on-islander, islander-on-expat, expat-on-expat, and expat-on-islander. Such conditions have been easy to keep "in the family" in the interest of protecting the tourism-driven local economy. However, the recent broad-daylight murder of a Norwegian Cruise Lines employee by a local -- closely following several assaults on tourists -- has justified a modicum of media play that has business owners panicking that the cruise lines will flee the island.
Against this backdrop, our unnamed gringo decided to go on a three-day sulk, leaving his girlfriend alone and quite logically afraid he might be bleeding to death somewhere. His shameful, irresponsible behavior led the woman to reach out to the island community, the U.S. State Department, and beyond for help. Let there be no mistake: The girlfriend did the right thing based on the circumstances and the information she possessed. She has received some criticism for "creating drama" by a handful of people who simply have no clue how important the early hours and days of a disappearance are for obtaining a positive result.
As a result of this clown's antics, scarce island resources were expended to search for him. More important, they make it almost certain that the next missing tourist's family will have a harder time generating the sense of urgency needed to engage the embassy and law enforcement. The sad fact is, cases that are never solved are quickly forgotten by all but the missing person's family and friends, while "crying wolf" situations are remembered forever and regarded in popular memory as "typical dumb-ass gringos".
Very few of our families have experienced happy endings, and all have suffered -- emotionally, practically, and financially -- as a result of popular misconceptions about "typical" missing-persons cases. Please share this story and other stories from The Missing Americans Project. People need to know and understand that disappearances and murders abroad and the challenges they pose for the loved ones of the missing and murdered are more pervasive and complex than the images drawn by popular media. They also need to know and understand that their behavior when traveling has implications that go way beyond their own "good time."