TAMPA, Fla. — The family of former Tampa resident Carla Stefaniak, who disappeared while vacationing in Costa Rica, says a body found on Monday is hers.
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In a Facebook post that was published early Wednesday morning, Carla Stefaniak's father, Carlos Caicedo, was said to have identified her body to investigators late Tuesday evening.
"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. May God bless her soul," the Facebook page for Stefaniak stated.
Later Wednesday Caicedo described the horror of having to identify his daughter's body in the morgue at a news conference.
"God, no. Identifying a body in the state of decomposition, with the marks that the murderer that hurt you left on your body when he ended your time in this world. It’s terrible,” Caicedo said as he broke down in tears. “Daughter, God bless you, God bless you. I never imagined having to see you like that. Never.”
The 36-year-old woman was due to return home November 28, but never made her flight.
Stefaniak and April Burton, Stefaniak's sister-in-law, traveled to Costa Rica Thanksgiving weekend. They went there to celebrate Stefaniak's 36th birthday.
Burton returned November 27 because of a prior engagement with her husband. Sefaniak was expected back on the 28th.
Stefaniak's family and friends, who live in Tampa, had not heard from her since she texted them from her Airbnb rental Tuesday night to say the power was going in and out.
Her brother flew to Costa Rica last week to assist authorities in the search. However, her body found near the hotel suffered blunt force trauma and had a bruise on her neck.
Costa Rican authorities also now say it appears she may have been sexually assaulted.
Bismark Espinoza Martínez, 32, has been arrested in connection with the murder.
Authorities in Costa Rica, Martinez is from Nicaragua and worked as a security guard at the vacation rental property where Stefaniak was staying.
"He was in close proximity to her, he had the means to commit the crime, and he emerged as a suspect as a consequence of our investigation. When it turned out that the story he originally told us was different and not compatible with the evidence we'd found," said Walter Espinoza, head of the country's Judicial Investigation Department.
Stefaniak's family says they will continue pressing investigators for answers about her murder.