April 10, 2008
Israeli girl’s disappearance marks 1-year anniversary
Where is Dana Rishby?
Sadly, for Dania and Dror Rishpy, the call, built on a baseless report from a bad source, brought but another fleeting flicker of hope.
It has been a year since Dana Rishpy, an Israeli girl last seen vacationing in Mexico, disappeared. In that time, her parents have had their hopes buoyed -- and then dashed -- by numerous erroneous reports that Dana had been spotted in Guatemala or Belize or some other Central American country. It's unlikely, they know, because her Israeli and German passports, along with close to $1,000 in traveler's checks, her credit card and clothes, were found in her knapsack back in Tulum, left April 7 at the front desk of the motel where she was staying, by someone known only as "Mati."
Dana, who was then 24, was last seen in the early hours of March 31, 2007, at a beach party in Tulum, a coastal retreat about 100 miles south of Cancun that mixes archaeological ruins with picturesque shorelines. Tulum, according to TravelYucatan.com, "has yet to be invaded by the all-inclusive resorts and remains as one of the last popular bastions of hedonistic culture in the Riviera."
Photos depict Dana as the stereotypical pretty girl next door, doe-eyed, with long, brown hair and soft features. As a child, her picture graced billboards advertising grapes, and as an adult, she offered her voice for dubbing children's programs like "Tom and Jerry" and "Pokemon" in Hebrew.
Her family is well-connected and well-to-do, her father a retired El Al pilot who once served as the personal aviator for Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and her mother a former travel agent. International vacations were typical, and Dana was already a seasoned traveler. Her parents didn't worry when she spoke with them from Los Angeles in mid-March and said she was heading south.
Now, though, they wait half a world away in Israel for news that is not only encouraging but accurate.
"Every day there is something that gives hope, and then we are getting slapped on the face, and we see that nothing was done or nothing changed," Dania Rishpy said this week in a phone interview from the family home in Haifa. "We are between hope and despair all the time."
Adding to the difficulties of an international search for a young woman not known for disappearing acts, the Rishpys and Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs have little confidence in the Mexican investigation and even less influence over it.
"The basic problem on this case is we are talking about a crime against an Israeli citizen in another country, Mexico, with the main suspect being an American," said Itzhak Erez, an Israeli consul in Mexico City. "It is a triangle of countries."
Despite a direct appeal from Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai to Mexican President Felipe Calderon, federal authorities have had scant influence over the attorney general for the state of Quintana Roo, Bello Melchor Rodriguez. He is a bureaucrat who has been accused of bungling the investigation into Dana's disappearance and also another involving the slashing murders of a Canadian couple staying at a posh resort on the eve of their daughter's wedding in Cancun. The state's top law enforcement official also was the source who told TV reporters that Dana had hopped the border and been spotted carousing in Central America with a male companion.
"We know she is here, somewhere," said Erez, who has traveled several times to Tulum to search for Dana and speak with local authorities. "It will be a big surprise if we find her alive. But we are trying to find her and bring her back to her family -- alive or dead."
To this point, authorities have no evidence of a crime related to her disappearance nor what may have happened to her. The man last seen with Dana, whom Erez and her parents believe either knows what happened or had something to do with it, is back in the United States and not speaking with authorities.
Next week, after months of diplomatic finessing, a team of Israeli police officers is scheduled to land in Cancun to revisit search locations and comb over the little evidence held at the police station in Tulum. Pessimism grows with each passing day. With no comforting explanation for Dana's disappearance, horrifying possibilities are preferred over the macabre.
"Every day I think something else," said her mother, who is 64. "I am a very optimistic person. I still want to believe she is being held somewhere against her will and can't do anything. Maybe she is drugged and can't call us."
Dana had been traveling alone, something she had taken to since completing Israeli military service, and had spent the previous two weeks visiting computer-animation schools in California and meeting cousins in Los Angeles who she didn't know she had.
"We were setting up these family meetings for her all over the city. I asked her if she was really OK with this, and she said, âOh yes! I really want to meet everybody. I love meeting everybody,'" said Bruce Powell, founding head of New Jewish Community High School in West Hills, who is a cousin of Dana's father. "She was really just delightful. I mean, what 24-year-old wants to spend their time with a bunch of 50-year-olds they don't even know?"
The plan was to meet her parents in New York at the end of March. But the weather was bad, and Dana decided to head for warmer weather. Her parents were comfortable with her plans to travel to Cancun; they had vacationed there 30 years before and remembered it fondly.
Based on the last entry in her diary, Dana was easily making friends and enjoying her adventures on the Yucatan Peninsula.