An Ontario woman is missing in Belize along with her American boyfriend, a friend says, and search crews have so far failed to turn up any clues indicating where they may be.
Francesca Matus, 52, and her boyfriend, Drew De Voursney, 36, were last seen leaving a bar called Scotty's near Matus's beachfront home in Corozal, about 130 kilometres north of the country's capital.
Matus's friend, Nancy Rifenbark, confirmed to CBC Toronto that she was with Matus and De Voursney at Scotty's, a neighbourhood bar, until about 10:45 p.m. Tuesday.
Matus was scheduled to fly to Canada on Wednesday morning, Rifenbark said. Matus lives in the Greater Toronto Area, but Rifenbark couldn't say exactly where.
But when another of their friends, Joe Milholen, went to Matus's home to drive her to the airport, she wasn't there.
"It's a huge mystery," Rifenbark said.
A spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada would only confirm that the federal department is aware of reports that a Canadian citizen is missing in Belize, but would not confirm Matus's identity, citing privacy considerations.
"Consular officials are providing consular assistance to the family and remain in regular contact with local authorities to gather additional information," Natasha Nystrom told CBC News Saturday in an email.
According to Milholen, he arrived at Matus's home at 8:30 a.m. local time Wednesday to take her to the airport for her flight back to Canada.
"When I arrived there to pick her up, the gate was closed and the car was gone. And so, she wasn't there."
De Voursney's motorcycle was in the driveway, he said. Milholen waited 30 minutes and kept dialling Matus's cellphone. She didn't pick up.
He started calling friends of the couple to find out if anyone had heard from them. Milholen also tried calling the airline, but officials there weren't forthcoming with information, he said.
In the end, Matus's brother told him that the airline confirmed she checked in online on Tuesday night, but did not get on the flight.
"The biggest thing is if we can find the vehicle," Milholen told CBC Toronto. "That will tell us a lot."
Friends of De Voursney have started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money "to use every resource necessary for their safe return."
The page describes De Voursney as a former Marine who served two tours in Iraq and then worked as a contractor in Afghanistan.
As of mid-afternoon Saturday, the campaign had raised more than $1,700.
'Never felt a threat like this'
According to Rifenbark, police have been conducting an extensive air and ground search, but there's been no sign of the missing couple or of Matus's car, which she was last seen driving as she left the bar.
"It is a lot of jungle and bush and so it's not that easy," Rifenbark said. "So we're hoping to get maybe a helicopter or more plane activity."
She said Matus's and De Voursney's brothers are expected to travel to Belize soon to help with the search.
Meanwhile, Milholen said it's his phone number on flyers he has been putting around the area to receive tips from the public. He's had several calls, but none has produced a solid lead.
About 50 people are searching through the local bush, he said.
Rifenbark said she has never felt unsafe in Corozal, where she has lived for eight years. Matus has had her home there for four years, she said.
"Things happen just like they do everywhere else," she said. "It is a Third World country. But I drive around at night and I've never felt a threat like this."
She described Matus and De Voursney as "well-liked" and said they have lots of local friends. Matus lives part of the year at her property in Corozal and part of the year in Canada, Rifenbark said. Matus is also a mother of twin boys, she said.
Friends were posting on a Facebook page belonging to Matus, offering prayers that she be found safe.
"Can't believe this is happening — I hope you are safe," Susan Zecchino posted on Saturday.
"We are praying you return home safe and sound!" wrote Ryah Lynn Lopizzo. "Be strong… whereever you are!"