SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A Maryland man who claimed his travel partner apparently drowned during a getaway to Aruba has now become a suspect in her disappearance because his response to the incident raised suspicions of police.
Gary V. Giordano was in jail on the Caribbean island Wednesday as authorities looked for clues to what happened to his friend, 35-year-old Robyn Gardner. He has said she disappeared while they were snorkeling near the southern tip of the island, the Aruban prosecutor’s office said.
Aruban Solicitor General Taco Stein said Wednesday that authorities had called off the active search for Gardner because they had no more leads to pursue, but that they planned to question Giordano again.
“The suspect is standing by his story that they went snorkeling and that Robyn did not resurface,” Stein said.
Earlier, the prosecutor’s office said it decided to detain Giordano on Friday, as he tried to leave Aruba, because of 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.
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.
Assisted with search, answered police questions
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. His lawyer said he runs an employment agency.
‘Some romantic thing’
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, said Richard A. Forester, who said he was her boyfriend.
Forester said Gardner lived much of the time with him in Rockville 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.”
Aruba has experience dealing with missing person cases following the still unsolved disappearance of Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway during a high school class trip to the island in 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.