The siblings of Robyn Gardner, the 35-year-old Frederick woman who went missing in Aruba last August, say they have faith that their sister is alive and they are speaking publicly for the first time in a bid to renew coverage of Gardner’s disappearance.
“We want to keep the story alive, just in case there’s somebody out there who knows some information, anything,” said her sister, Danielle Colson-Unglesbee.
Andrew Colson, who signs updates to a Facebook awareness group as Gardner’s “little ‘big’ brother,” said they are also speaking now to focus attention on Robyn’s personality.
“Although she’s disappeared, her legacy lives on. Seeing how many lives she’s touched, we want to continue to show off our sister to everyone,” Colson said. “She’s very fun-loving, outgoing, social and very caring at the same time.”
The family shied away from media a year ago when Gardner’s case was the subject of stories in newspapers, including tabloids such as the National Enquirer, and on television around the world.
“It has been really devastating. Very hard,” Colson-Unglesbee said. “To constantly be contacted by the media, to have people show up on your doorstep, have phone calls all day long.
“I stopped the TV. I did not have TV for nine months, because I couldn’t stand seeing stuff,” she continued. “I distanced myself from all kinds of media because I was going through the grieving process and I just couldn’t do that.”
All the attention added to family’s grief and growing questions about Gardner’s disappearance, they said.
Colson-Unglesbee didn’t know her sister had gone on a trip until Aug. 4, two days after Gardner, who often traveled to destinations around the world, vanished.
“It was pretty common of her just to go on vacations somewhere without us knowing. We would usually hear about it after the fact,” Colson said.
Such spontaneity is a cornerstone of Gardner’s personality, Colson-Unglesbee said.
“She always, on the spur of the moment, going away somewhere. She was well-traveled. She loved traveling,” she said.
Gardner was reported missing to Aruban authorities on Aug. 2, when her traveling companion, Gaithersburg resident Gary Giordano, said she didn’t return to shore after a snorkeling outing at Baby Beach, near the southern tip of the island.
Giordano was held for months in an Aruban jail on suspicion of being involved in Gardner’s disappearance, and an insurance policy caught the attention of investigators and prosecutors looking to build a case against him. But an Aruban judge ordered him released in November, saying prosecutors didn’t have enough evidence to continue holding him.
Giordano, 51, has denied any wrongdoing in Gardner’s disappearance; a lawyer who represented him in Aruba could not be reached for comment Friday.
Giordano sued Amex Assurance Co. in June, arguing that the company is required to pay him $3.5 million under the terms of a life insurance policy bought before last summer’s trip. He says in the suit that Gardner is presumed dead after her Aug. 2 disappearance and that the insurance company “has a duty to pay the full death benefit” to him.
Gail Wasserman, a spokeswoman for the company, said she can’t comment on pending litigation. A hearing is set for later this year, according to online court records.
Giordano’s Chicago-based attorney in that case also could not be reached for comment.
Gardner’s siblings said they were unable to answer many questions about ongoing litigation or investigations but set up two interviews recently to encourage anyone with information about the case to step forward.
“We just need some type of closure on this,” Colson-Unglesbee said. “Any type of information, we’ll take it.”
Both siblings say they also want to go to Aruba.
“I just want to go down there to see what the terrain is like, where the restaurant was, where the hotel was, where Baby Beach was and just try to get a sense of everything,” Colson-Unglesbee said. “I have a lot of unanswered questions. I wish that I could go down there to ask people certain specific questions about logistics and stuff like that. That would make me feel a little bit better if I knew.”
Colson, 22, said he wants to see if he can connect with his older sister.
“Since Robyn and I are brother and sister, maybe there’s some sort of telepathic connection that could lead to any clues to where she is,” he said. “I also want to go so I can see and feel some of the places that Robyn was last seen.”
Phone calls and an email seeking information about the case to police and prosecutors in Aruba on Friday and Saturday were not immediately returned. People who answered the phones at various government offices said they were not authorized to speak about the case.
For now, the family cherishes the memories of Gardner, particularly those from their last trip as a family.
In May 2011, the family converged on Disney World to celebrate Colson’s graduation from Florida Institute of Technology.
On Friday night, the siblings leafed through a bound picture book with snapshots of that last trip.
“You can tell how perky and how happy she is,” Colson-Unglesbee said, pointing out one photo.
“She always had a smile on her face,” her brother added.
Despite the sadness they feel now, the trip is a bright spot for the family, they said.
“Me and my sister were able to really bond there,” Colson-Unglesbee said. “I think we spent two hours at the pool just sitting and chatting about life, and it was just wonderful.”
“It’s almost like it was meant to be,” Colson added.
On Monday, the family will join with Gardner’s friends and other relatives at a vigil in Frederick. On Tuesday, they will spend a quiet day together, praying for Gardner’s return.
“We believe in the power of prayer,” Colson-Unglesbee said.
“I believe she’s alive,” Colson said. “I still feel her presence, whether it’s talking to her friends or random strangers or in my dreams. I can just feel her presence in almost everything I do.”