A Frederick County woman who traveled to Aruba with an American companion vanished a few days into the trip, and police on the island have detained the man, authorities in Aruba said Tuesday.
Robyn Gardner, 35, was last seen Aug. 2 in an area known as "Baby Beach" for its shallow waters, said Ann Angela, a spokeswoman for Aruba's public prosecutor's office. On Friday, authorities investigating Gardner's disappearance detained her 50-year-old companion, who had reported that she had failed to make it to shore after snorkeling, officials said.
"We arrested him at the airport. He was on his way back to the U.S.," Angela said.
She called the American a "suspect" in the case but stressed that that covers a range of possibilities — from failing to make a timely report of Gardner's disappearance to something more serious. "It's too soon for us to be more specific," Angela said. "He is being suspected of involvement in the missing of Ms. Gardner."
Aruban authorities said the man reported Gardner missing about 6:23 p.m. Aug. 2. Angela said that policy allowed her to identify him only by his initials: G.V.G. A local judge ordered him held for an additional eight days while the probe continues, Angela said.
The companion told authorities that he and Gardner were snorkeling and that he signaled to her to return to the beach, according to the prosecutor's office. When he got to shore, he realized she had disappeared, he told them.
"Statements made by the traveling companion led to such questions that on Friday, August 5, 2011 it was decided to detain him for further questioning on the possible drowning of the woman," the prosecutor's office said in a statement. Authorities did not elaborate on the man's statements.
Two of Gardner's close friends said they have spoken to Aruban authorities about her disappearance. One of them said Gardner's companion is from the Gaithersburg area.
Christina Jones, Gardner's roommate, said authorities told her that when the man made the report he was wearing dry clothing.
Jones and Gardner met about four years ago in Frederick, when Gardner got her hair done at Jones' salon, Studio She. They became close friends.
"She is full of life," Jones said. "Very smart, very big-hearted. ... She would never say anything bad about anyone."
Jones said her friend had been working at a Bethesda dental practice but was recently laid off. "She wanted to go to Aruba to get away, to clear her head," Jones said.
Jones said Gardner and the man she traveled with were friends but didn't have a romantic relationship.
The Aruba Herald and two of Gardner's friends have identified the detained man. Michael Lopez, a lawyer in Aruba who the Herald said was representing the man, could not be reached.
Gardner's friends created a Facebook page to help in the search and are working with the Natalee Holloway Resource Center, an organization that grew out of the Holloway case, also in Aruba.
Angela said Gardner and the man arrived on the island July 31. On Sunday, the suspect and Aruba police went to a beach where the man said Gardner was last seen, Angela said. She said rescue workers have searched the water and coastline.
Staff researchers Jennifer Jenkins and Julie Tate contributed to this report article.