2 years after NJ couple vanished in Barbados, families seek answers | The Tape Room
NEW YORK - Off the coast of Barbados, well beyond where the waves break, is a mystery so deeply strange that people have trouble making sense of it. Two American tourists from New Jersey set out on a routine ride on a rented jet ski and then vanished.
"Something bad happened to them, but absolutely no one knows exactly what this bad thing is that occurred," said Kareem Smith, a journalist with local news outlet BarbadosToday who covered the story closely.
What happened to Oscar Suarez and Magdalena Devil?
Two years of questions with so many possibilities have yielded so few answers.
"What about piracy? What about, you know, human trafficking? What about things like that?" said Oscar's older sister Susanna Cruz. She said the families are frustrated with how the investigation unfolded with local authorities in Barbados.
"They were just like, 'No, that doesn't happen here,'" Cruz said.
It all started at the end of June 2019 when Suarez, 32, of Montclair, and his girlfriend Devil, 25, of Bloomfield, arrived in Barbados for a weeklong vacation.
"They were celebrating her birthday, actually, when he went off on their trip," Cruz said. She said that two days into the trip, on June 24, the young couple decided to rent a jet ski.
"They were hanging out on the beach right outside their hotel," Cruz said. "There's a lot of different vendors out there."
FOX 5 NY obtained surveillance video, never seen publicly before, showing what happens next. Oscar and Magdalena are at Holetown Beach near their hotel on the western side of the island. A man walks up to them and is believed to tell them he has a jet ski to rent. A few minutes later, the couple get up from their spot on the beach and walk over to where the jet ski is located.
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Cruz said they left all their belongings on the shoreline like they had every intention of coming back.
We then see them meet up with the jet ski operator, identified by authorities as Artneal Abbey. They push the vessel into the water and ride out. They were both wearing life jackets.
The images that follow are harder to see. But eventually, they change direction and a fuzzy white streak on the video shows them as they keep riding until, eventually, they ride out of frame.
It was supposed to be a short trip but two years later they're still missing.
"For me personally, this is the only case of that nature that I'm aware of," Smith said. The journalist said the disappearance still haunts many people on the island. It just doesn't make sense, he said.
"The jet skis, the speed boats — all of the water sporting activity happens quite parallel to the shoreline," Smith said.
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After the jet ski operator didn't see them when the ride was supposed to be over, he contacted other businesses trying to find them. Then he called the police.
"It was an extremely big deal," Smith said. Especially on an island where tourism is the key economic engine.
A massive search began, eventually covering more than 600 nautical miles, and included the local coast guard, regional security forces, and the U.S. Air Force. Both families headed to the island.
"We walked along the coastline and we were asking everyone," Cruz said. "We even got in touch with the jet ski operator who rented to them."
But hours turned to days and authorities started to lose hope. The search was called off. The families were crushed.
Then two weeks after they disappeared, the jet ski was located.
"In the middle of the water by a French naval ship," Cruz said.
It was 210 miles from the beach in Barbados, near the French Caribbean Island Guadeloupe. Though the vessel was in good condition, there was no sign of Oscar or Magdalena or their life jackets.
"We were not satisfied," Cruz said. "We won't be satisfied until we at least know what happened, even if it was an accident."
Records obtained by FOX 5 NY show the jet ski did have four gallons of gas left in the tank but the engineer who conducted the inspection found a battery cable was not connected. That engineer also found poor maintenance would have led to corrosion. The broken cable could have prevented the engine from restarting.
We tried calling Artneal Abbey, the jet ski operator, but multiple messages were not returned. He was charged with not having proper insurance or a proper license and fined $450.
Oscar's family rejects any conspiracy he was trying to disappear. The single father of two would never leave his children behind, they say. Neither would Magdalena from a tight-knit family of her own.
"Having closure, something that the parents, I feel like my parents deserve it," Cruz said. "I feel like my Magdalena's parents deserve to know what happened to their child."
The office of the prime minister of Barbados declined our request for an interview. Instead, the office issued the following statement:
"Regarding your request for an interview, please note that there has been no change in the status of this matter since the last time investigators of the Royal Barbados Police Force provided an update to the families of Oscar Suarez and Magdalena Devil.
"Consequently, we see no point in an interview at this time to repeat information that is already in the public domain. Should there be a change in that status, however, we would be more than willing to accommodate you."
The families say they will not stop searching for answers or their loved ones.