Body found in search for US woman missing in Costa Rica

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Carla StefaniakImage source, Finding Carla/Facebook
Image caption,
Carla Stefaniak's family is in Costa Rica searching for her

A body has been found near the Airbnb property in Costa Rica where a Florida woman was staying before going missing last week, US media say.

There is no official confirmation of the identity of the person found.

Carla Stefaniak, 36, disappeared on 28 November, the day she was due to leave from San Jose after a birthday trip with her sister-in-law.

In her last message, she told a friend the power was going out, adding the area was "pretty sketchy", or unsafe.

NBC News quoted investigating agency spokeswoman Marisel Rodríguez Solís as saying that tracker dogs had discovered the body partially buried in plastic bags.

Ms Stefaniak's family have been looking for her in Costa Rica. They feared she had been kidnapped, saying she was in "imminent danger".

On Tuesday morning, Ms Stefaniak's family posted on Facebook that they were going to the morgue to identify the recovered body.

Spokesman for the family and one of Ms Stefaniak's close friends, Bugra Demirel, told the BBC that Ms Stefaniak's father and brother have been waiting outside of the morgue since 07:30 local time.

"For the last four hours they are just there waiting - it's a horrible wait, and every single minute that Costa Rican officials are not showing the body is just a tremendous amount of pain on the family," Mr Demirel said.

Image source, Finding Carla/Facebook
Image caption,
Carla Stefaniak has been missing since 28 November in Costa Rica

"Even the best circumstance is really a nightmare scenario - we're hoping it's not Carla, but then it's somebody else's daughter," he added. "We're hoping it's not Carla based on what we know, but there's still a lot of possibility that it could be."

Mr Demirel said he had stayed on the phone until 05:00 on Tuesday morning, talking through the situation.

"They are numb. They just want answers."

Image source, Finding Carla / Facebook

Ms Stefaniak, from the Miami area, and her sister-in-law April Burton were visiting Costa Rica to celebrate Ms Stefaniak's birthday, but Ms Burton returned to Florida a day before Ms Stefaniak.

The women had stayed at an Airbnb rental in the San Jose suburb of Escazu.

The last time Ms Burton saw Ms Stefaniak was when she dropped her off at the airport on 27 November.

Ms Stefaniak then reportedly took an Uber from the airport to do some sightseeing around San Jose before she was dropped off at the Airbnb.

Image source, Finding Carla / Facebook
Image caption,
"She genuinely loved life, such a free spirit!!!!" said her family in a Facebook post, sharing this image

She had been actively messaging friends and family throughout the day.

Her final text to a friend around 21:00 local time indicated it was raining hard and the power in her Airbnb accommodation had gone out.

Family and friends texted Ms Stefaniak for her birthday on 28 November, but received no response.

Ms Stefaniak had a flight scheduled for the following day, for which she had checked in and scheduled an Uber.

Image source, Finding Carla/Facebook
Image caption,
An Instagram photo showing Ms Stefaniak before the Costa Rica trip

But her family later learned she never boarded the flight home.

The Airbnb rental owner and local security guards said they saw her get into an unknown car with her luggage at around 05:00 local time, according to the family.

"None of us really believe this 5am story because it really doesn't make sense," Ms Burton told Fox News.

"There's no reason for her not to contact anyone."

Image source, Finding Carla/Facebook
Image caption,
Carla (bottom right), her mother and her two brothers Mario (left) and Carlos (right)

According to the family's Facebook page, Finding Carla, officials had initially not pursued the matter because Ms Stefaniak had appeared "rational at the time of her disappearance and got into a taxi of her own free will".

An Airbnb spokesman said the company has reached out to Ms Stefaniak's family as well as law enforcement authorities to support and cooperate with the investigation.

The US Embassy in Costa Rica did not immediately return a request for comment.