A short trip to the Caribbean island of Aruba was supposed to be a getaway and a time for 35-year-old Robyn Gardner to recharge after losing her job this summer.
Instead, the ill-fated trip turned into an international sensation after Ms. Gardner disappeared and her traveling companion, an older man with a history of domestic violence, was suspected of involvement in her apparent death.
For the past 15 years, Ms. Gardner worked in various dental offices. In late July, she lost her job as a patient coordinator at an office in Bethesda, where she had worked for about a year.
The job loss played a role in her decision to make the trip to Aruba, said her boyfriend, Richard Forester.
"She was obviously upset about that and distraught about that and she had some time," he said.
The trip was just supposed to be a time to get away and relax, Mr. Forester said, adding that Ms. Gardner never told him she was traveling with Gary Giordano, the 50-year-old Gaithersburg man now held in Aruban authority's custody.
"It was Sunday to Thursday, nothing too crazy," he said. "Then come back and start looking for a new job. … She was trying to get herself on her feet and do things on her own."
Mr. Giordano reported Ms. Gardner missing Aug. 2 and told police he thought she may have been swept out to sea as the two went snorkeling. Subsequent searches of the area have turned up no trace of her. Authorities placed Mr. Giordano in custody Aug. 5 on suspected involvement in her disappearance after they began to doubt his story.
In recent days, it's been reported that Mr. Giordano had purchased a $1.5 million accidental-death insurance policy on Ms. Gardner and sought to claim the money just two days after he reported her missing.
On Thursday, authorities in Aruba said they would postpone a search for Ms. Gardner's remains until early next week. Solicitor General Taco Stein told reporters that the large-scale operation still needs more preparation time.
The news was tough to bear for friends and family, who are still holding out hope that she will return home alive.
Issuing statements through the Natalee Holloway Resource Center, which helps to publicize missing persons cases, Ms. Gardner's family has praised Aruban officials for the handling of their daughter's case.
"We are still hoping to find out what has happened to our daughter, as we have not given up hope that she may still be alive," Andrea Colson, Ms. Gardner's mother, said in the family's last statement issued Monday.
Ms. Gardner, who grew up in Mount Airy and graduated from South Carroll High School in Sykesville, Md., in 1994, spent most of her adult life in the nearby city of Frederick. She moved there with husband Kenneth Gardner, to whom she was married for about 10 years.
The couple bought a newly renovated home on Second Street in downtown Frederick, where they lived until they separated in 2009, according to court records filed in Frederick County.
"I believe they paid top price for it, then the market tanked," said neighbor Bill Mohan.
Mr. Gardner declined to comment for this article.
Ms. Gardner remained in Frederick even after the couple separated, eventually moving into an apartment with friend and hairstylist Christina Jones. Though she was still renting the apartment at the time of her disappearance, Ms. Gardner was mostly staying at her boyfriend's Bethesda apartment, where she kept most of her clothes and her two cats, Mr. Forester said.
Each morning, the two carpooled together to their offices, which were about a quarter-mile apart.
The trim blonde, who had numerous and prominent tattoos, enjoyed running along the C&O Canal to stay fit and unwinding after work at happy hours or at home watching reality TV, Mr. Forester said.
Body art was a common interest for the couple, who got matching nautical star tattoos on a trip together to Florida.
"She's beautiful inside and out," Mr. Forester said. "Overall, she was a loving, kind person whom people wanted to be around."
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