100% DAD’s RV RESORT IN FLORIDAJanuary 29, 2024
We spent most of November in Costa Rica. All 5 of us and for 2 weeks we were with our traveling friends also a family of 5.
Our 3rd day the AirBnB was hit. Home Invasion with my kids and their kids used as leverage to get what they wanted.
Outside of death, kidnapping, and assault this is as bad as it gets for a dad. Rhyan (my wife) recently wrote her first and only blog about this experience.
You can read it here. https://medium.com/@Rhyan_12369/surviving-a-home-invasion-in-costa-rica-and-how-airbnb-is-doing-nothing-to-make-it-safer-
I had this blog written out and was going to post next week. But since Rhyans is out I figured there is no sense in waiting. So here it is.
First, the following in italics was the email I wrote to my mom the night the assault happened.
Can’t sleep. So, I figured I would write. In case the gossip has reached you, you can have some info.
Sat Nov 11th, 2023. Around 8:30pm central we were at our beach front Airbnb rental. Good day. Hiked. Walked around the town of Jaco. Came back and I grilled burgers for everyone. Rhy and I were out front of the house in a couple hammocks talking about …. well who knows I’m sure it was riveting. We had finished dinner. Cleaned the dishes. Had some ice cream and happy hour. The sun was down as it does around 6pm. An evening storm cooled the air down and made outside very pleasant.
Our friends and travel companions the *********’s were upstairs putting their little one to bed. The kids were playing hide and go seek inside. One of their girls was out near us counting down till she could go search. The rest of the kids were finding hiding spots. My youngest son was hiding in the downstairs bathroom. My middle son was hiding under a blanket on the couch downstairs. My oldest son was still searching for the perfect hiding spot.
We had locked the driveway gates earlier. Our little compound was supposed to be secure. Its fenced all the way around. It’s a big home on the ocean. It has great reviews on AirBnB.
2 masked men – guns pointing straight at me walked up from behind the house about 8 steps away. It was instantly clear. They had us. This was a home invasion. They had guns. We had nothing. We were unprepared. They knew it.
The only question now was how bad would this be? Was it a gang initiation to kill some white tourists? Was it for quick valuables and they disappear? Or was this a full flown take everything armed robbery that will take a long time?
They shouted in Spanish making it clear they weren’t looking for a fight. 2 guns versus one dad struggling to get out of the hammock and stand between guns and family. (I can look back on this with a slight chuckle. After the fact our friends daughter said we got out of the hammocks real fast. It felt like an eternity…I mean those things are not easy to hop out of.) Once standing confusion ensued as the mix languages was frustrating.
Rhyan screamed for the ********’s to give them warning and for an adult to corral the kids. In the mist of the yelling and confusion my middle son ran out the door to see what was going on and froze as he stared down the barrel of a black pistol and a gunman headed right towards him.
I called for him to come to me. The intruders corralled us into the house. The instructions were ever changing- not that I could understand them. Waving guns and pointing and stand there. Point and stand here. That wasn’t so bad. It was not knowing where all the kids were that was on our minds.
The gunmen split up. Quickly the *******’s were round up and brought downstairs carrying their smallest daughter that they had been putting to bed with a story. My oldest and youngest were missing. ********’s, fluent in Spanish, and of Mexican decent helped translate the yelling. My greatest concern was these criminals getting spooked by the kids and accidentally squeezing that trigger. Their fingers were on the trigger. I was watching that. And they waved and pointed with the guns. So much for gun safety.
We were able to convince them to put the kids in the bathroom. We go in there. Oh. There’s my youngest son. Still hiding.
Translate for me I asked the ********’s. Tell these guys. Let me call my boy’s name. He needs to hear my voice. I called out his name. He responds, “I’m coming”. He is. Walking down the stairs with the gunmen following pointing at his back. I thought–Man he is composing himself well for a 12 year old kid that was just discovered hiding alone on the 2nd floor. Alone. Gun pointed at him. He talks normally. No shaking. No tears. Some kid.
Come here buddy. I gave him a hug. Tell him it’s going to be okay. We headed to the bathroom. We did as ordered and shut the door. All 6 kids are in the shower huddled. Grownups are on the first floor with the gunmen. Now what.
Passports. They demand. “Why?”, we ask. Okay I guess we don’t need to ask why.
Who are we? We tell them.
Where are we from? We tell them.
Where is the guard? Comes in at 11
What’s his name? We don’t know.
Does he live here? Maybe. He might be a neighbor.
“We want to kill him”, they say. “We just want the guard. Once we figure out who you are we leave.”
Who owns the place? Some American guy.
Where are your phones? There. Lots of pictures. Let us keep the pictures.
Wallets? My friend gave them his. They take the cash. I had tossed mine behind the TV during the chaos early on. I don’t want to upset them by telling them I hid it. It’s around here somewhere in the living room. They can have the cash. Let’s find it. Surely the kids knocked it off somewhere.
Where are the passports. They knew the house had a safe upstairs. My friend is taken upstairs to open the safe at gunpoint. Passports checked.
They demand. Give us more cash. White man’s wallet. Where is it?
It’s around here somewhere. They want to check the guesthouse. We check it. Still at gunpoint. At least the fingers off the trigger now. Kids are safe. These guys just wanted the guard. He’s not here. Time to go.
Nope. More money. Wallet. We don’t leave till white man’s wallet is found. Coming back from the guest house rhyan had produced the wallet. Cash gone. Fine. Time for these guys to go.
No police they say. Stay in the bathroom 1 hr we lock you in.
Uh… its hot in the bathroom how about 20 minutes door open. We will stay.
Fine. We’re taking your beer.
Take the beer.
We all hung out in the bathroom. The kids are physically okay. They seem to be. My middle one is real shook up. We waited the 20 minutes. Sure, they were gone. Why risk it. Time to plan. Are we staying the night? Was this an inside job? How much did we just lose?
They took cash, a camera that was in the safe, and beer as far as we can tell. Passports, cards, wallets, cameras, phones all left behind. Could have been worse.
We all agree. We’re alive so that’s good. There’s nothing we could have done to prevent it. Other than not travel or lock ourselves inside at all times. The best thing we maybe should have done was split up the money better. In our shoes or various hiding places.
20 minutes. Well one thing sure. We’re not splitting up and no one is sleeping in the guest house. Everyone sleeps in the main house.
Should we leave? It’s late. It’s wet? Where can we go. It’s at least 2 hours to pack up. And we would be outside in the dark loading up. We decided to hunker down. Cash is gone. Were already hit. We will leave tomorrow morning.
My middle one is still shook up. We let him call Aunt ****** and talk it over for a while. She was a victims advocate in Orlando for a couple years so she is good at listening for something like this. He felt true fear. Turn your blood ice cold. Feel your heartbeat and paralyze your muscles fear.
He’s doing better now. We talked. We hugged. Dad is sleeping in bed as guard tonight. Sleeping. Ha. It’s 2 am here, I’m wide awake. Every sound is a trigger. I rehash a million variations of how it could have gone. So, I write this as a distraction.
For my middle son we’re going to work on a few things. It was scary. We were all scared. No Shame in that. He didn’t do anything wrong. We’re all alive. There nothing he should have done differently. He was brave. We will be brave. We don’t see a continuous danger so we’re not bailing on Costa Rica. We won’t be run off. We still need to find our sloths, toucans, and monkeys. We take on obstacles and challenges, face them, and make the best out of it.
I’m most mad about them scarring my middle one. Hopefully it’s an opportunity for growth. Money can be replaced. Stuff can be replaced. The whole ordeal was probably 45-60 minutes long.
We will find new accommodations in the morning. Airbnb has already been notified. Embassy will be notified. Then the police. We didn’t want to call. They said no. We don’t know if the police can be trusted. It’s a small town and word travels fast. We didn’t want to incite any extra trouble. There’s no fingerprints. No faces to describe.
Day 3 of 22 Costa Rica trip in the books.
Those were words written at 2am on a night where there was no way I was getting a second of sleep. Same with my friend. We were both up all night on edge and on guard.
We all talked more about the even that transpired over the next few days and had a run in with the owner before we left. So the following is a more reflective summary of what happened. Minus some details like the dog abuse and hate crime language.
Within 24 hours of arriving at this AirBnB, we were targeted and victims of a home invasion involving 10 persons. 4 parents and 6 children all under the age of 12.
This home invasion was premeditated, planned, and executed in a perfect timing with intimate knowledge of the layout of the grounds and inside floor plan. Knowledge of room locations, hiding spots, and safe were known. Metal fencing in the rear of the property was cut ahead of time and used to gain access from the rear of a fully closed and locked compound.
An interior side gate was conveniently left open from initial arrival to provide easier access for gunmen. 2 masked gunmen waited for dark and for us parents to be sitting in hammocks allowing maximum advantage. They ran out from the protective cover guns out screaming in Spanish. They were constantly screaming and pointing guns in adults faces and kids faces.
- Gun Men knew we had children, other adults, and waited to attack once 2 adults were relaxed outside, kids were playing hide and seek, and the other 2 adults were reading bedtime stories to their 5-year-old and therefore maximizing leverage in the assault.
- Gun Men refused to take anything belonging to the homeowner. Asking repeated what was his versus ours.
- Gun Men knew the layout of the house and property including the safe.
- Gun Men knew about the guard and that he would not be there.
- Gun Men may have had information knowing this was the beginning of our trip therefore maximum cash on hand.
Theft around $1,000 American dollars equivalent occurred.
This was a clear hate crime. We were white. We were not in the touristy areas. They hit us for that reason. Our Mexican friends that were doing the translating let us know they clearly did not like us. The gunmen even apologized saying they had no beef with Mexicans. Once the tension of the language barrior was lifted it helped keep those guys from being as twitchy as they initially were.
The gun men were not professional. They waved the guns around carelessly with fingers on triggers as if they were prop guns. They yelled. They were disorganized. We had multiple opportunities where we felt we could have easily overtaken them, but felt the escalation would unnecessarily risky if a shot fired off. Had there been any threats of abduction, rape, or more violent we certainly would have engaged and either put a stop to it or gone down fighting.
In the moment there was not much deep thinking, simply reacting and preparing. But certainly, at least I had no hesitation that if I’m going to die tonight it better be taking at least one of them out. By the end of the hour-long ordeal I was more annoyed than anything else. It was taking too long. These guys had what they wanted they just need to go.
Trauma occurred to both kids and adults as everyone had guns pointed in their faces and were yelled at. There have been very real traumas and consequences resulting in sleepless nights, nightmares, flashbacks, constant adrenaline surges, and overwhelming emotions.
Safety in our subsequent stays in Costa Rica always felt inadequate. And was legitimately inadequate. No locking mechanism requirements for air bnb hosts in Costa Rica. Most were equivalent to indoor bedroom locks in the USA. The standards for security are a complete joke.
- Homeowner disclosed he knew of previous robberies, sexual assault, and home invasions on the street and did not disclose until after the fact.
- Homeowner knowing these security issues did not have security cameras as a deterrent despite having ability with power and internet on site.
- Homeowner did not have the alarm system activated despite having sensors and control pads previously installed.
- Homeowner provided a guard from 11pm to 4am without prior notice to our arrival. It was a surprise to us the place had or needed a night guard. Suggesting he knew more about the risks in the neighborhood than he was letting on. And conveniently not when it is dark or when the attack happened.
- Assault occurred at 8pm and lasted till 9 pm when it was pitch black outside and occupants were still active allowing access to the house.
As soon as the assault was over we called AirBnB safety line requesting immediate contact. They never called us in our time of need. We stayed up all night on the second story of the home not wanting to pack up in the darkness outside the home.
We were not confident that calling the police was the right response because the gunmen told us they would know and we had a friend tell us sometimes the cops there in Costa Rica are in with the gangs and will just rob you a second time.
We did notify the US Embassy. We learned Costa Rica was in July moved to a threat level 2 because this is a more frequent occurrence in Costa Rica. Air BNB did not pass on that security uptick notice. I sure as hell didn’t think to look.
We had booked in May before the threat level was elevated due to more aggressive crimes against American travelers.
We immediately booked a staffed resort hotel where we could feel safer. We moved there the next morning once daylight broke and we packed up. We found where they had cut thru the fence in the rear. That fencing was too thick to have been cut without us noticing. So we are certain this was done in advance allowing for easy quick entry through the rear of the property.
We had some of the neighbors’ dogs on property all the time. Those dogs would bark at everything. When we were sitting in the hammocks, we actually watched the dogs barking and following the fence line about 5 minutes before the attack. We even talked about how annoying the dogs were barking at every iguana that passed by.
Those dogs were of no help. In fact, they simply added to the hassle as they barked nonstop and even pawed at legs asking to be pet while guns were pointed at us. At one point one of the gunmen even kicked one of the dogs off the stairway into rhyan causing her to have to collect her balance.
We had to call AirBnB safety again in the morning after not hearing back from them. They took our statement and initially our case was escalated and AirBnB was responsive, apologetic, and wanted to help us.
The property owner Albert stopped by that next morning and pretended to be horrified. Said he was shutting this AirBnB down.
“It’s not safe” he said.
“The area has gone downhill”, he said.
He said his property has been robbed before. Down the street a sexual assault happened. Down the street a home invasion happened. He said he was disgusted and ready to puke. “Shutting it down”, he said.
This AirBnB is still active and just had a review days after our incident of a family with a toddler. Willfully exposing them to danger as they did us. The property owner has set a precedent of lying to us. We thought at the time that he may be in on the assault, and with these lies to us it only reaffirms that feeling.
The AirBnB is called CASA DE ORO Oceanfront Home 5 bedrooms 4 baths Entire home in Esterillos Este, Costa Rica. And the link is below.
We cannot leave a review to protect future travelers against this site. Leading us to believe others may have had the same issue and cannot leave reviews of the truth as well. This is false & misleading advertising from the beginning and continuing to this day.
After a couple days AirBnB became frustratingly unresponsive, and we were being contacted by AirBnB call centers with entry level clueless employees asking us to re-live the experience for them and then telling us that this was way above their heads. They called us at 2 am in the morning, inducing quite the adrenaline burst, and upon being notified it was 2 am the foreign call agent said just tell me what happened again and they can let us go back to sleep. After re-living this tragedy again at 2 am —he told us that once again this situation was way worse than he was qualified to handle.
Since that 2 am call happened very little happened in terms of good communication. No traction has been made. Eventually, weeks later things got picked up again by the original team handling this safety issue. That did put an end to that part of aggravation.
- Now that we are stateside, there are certainly lingering effects to us personally from this mess.
- We want to see greater required security measures like real functional locks, safety locks like US hotels have to prevent access while sleeping, alarms that work, prior notice of events, working cameras, and/or guards in AirBnbs with track records or in areas of concern.
- We need to have the ability to actually leave reviews of bad experiences so we and others can know the truth. We can’t leave them and we assume others were not able to either.
- We would like AirBNB to pass along security concerns such as major incidents and threat levels from the embassy to American travelers going abroad.
- We would like to see Albert honor his word and take down his AirBnB as he said he would. At the very least disclose past issues and step up security with cameras, around-the-clock guards, and a functional alarm system.
All in all, we are alive so that’s good. I can’t pretend I wasn’t affected. For the remaining 3 weeks sleep was hard to come by, I was always on edge, every sound caused an adrenaline response and protective instincts. It sucks to simply be the victim. We haven’t used that word much. It would feel better if I could have taken some action. Hell, even our friends at least got to translate and keep the guys calm. I’m used to being in charge and being involved, especially in high stress scenarios.
In the end its crystal clear the right decision was for us not to escalate the situation. Even though we all felt there were opportunities to gain the advantage, the risk was accidental gunfire during a struggle or worse mis-gauging our abilities or the gunmen’s reactions could have been fatal for us or worse a kid on the other side of the bathroom wall.
As a dad, especially one that travels a lot with his family, I did try and pull a few nuggets of wisdom out of a crappy situation.
- Boy I love America, where I know the legal system and law enforcement. Where I am typically armed. Where I know the layout, geography, have allies, and know who I can trust. We felt very isolated and wary of the authorities there. And if things had gone south, I think I would have had to jet out that night and call the police and lawyers after. I’m not sure how Costa Rica would tolerate death of one of their own by a visitor. In America I’d be fine but who knows in CR.
- Traveling as a white family in countries where we stand out…I think we will stick to the tourist areas instead of the more remote authentic areas. We typically are not resort people. We want to experience the real thing not the Americanized versions. But it is clear we are very obvious targets. And the gunmen made that clear…It was definitely a hate crime against us. They even commented on our smell at one point. The resort areas are more favorable for tourists. They have more protection and tolerance for tourists.
- If we are going to stay remote or rural, we may insist on private security to accompany us, something I never thought I would say. But in order to be able to relax in that environment I think we would need someone to be on alert.
- Split up cash. I was dumb for this one. I had cash in one place, my wallet. It would have been better to split up the cash in various places. Some easy to find others in weird spots. Shoes, random pockets, make up bag, etc
- We were not flashy or drawing attention to ourselves. I never even pulled my wallet out anywhere. But this certainly reinforced the obvious. Don’t attract unnecessary attention, especially if that attention is money based.
- I switched to a smaller wallet. My bi fold was too big. I switched to those small metal card wallets/money clips so my pocket doesn’t carry such a big bulge. While that wasn’t an issue, I was very aware of it when those guys stormed the house that damn, my bulge is way too big and not in a good way.
- I really need to do a better job learning the language of countries I visit. If we hadn’t had fluent Spanish speakers the tension in that situation would have been way worse. I know basic Spanish if people speak slow and simple I can communicate. But in that situation, it was useless.
- In that moment of high tension, fear, & confusion immediately after the guys left….we had talks about canceling the rest of the trip and going home. We had family and friends encouraging it. We all decided pretty quick we shouldn’t run away. We should model bravery and resilience for these kids. Tucking tail and running was quickly taken off the table. We are all glad we did.
- We should probably check embassy news about travel to countries we travel too. The threat level in Costa Rica was elevate in July to level 2 exercise increased caution while traveling due to an increase in violent crimes against tourists. We booked in may when it was level 1 but traveled in Nov when it was level 2 out of 4.
- Bad shit happens to good people. Truth is there is nothing we could have done differently to prevent this. We didn’t flash wealth. We didn’t get friendly with any locals and divulge info. Our compound was completely locked. The gates were shut. There was truly nothing we could have done to prevent this that we can attribute to ourselves. Hell, we are not even bad people that deserve some bad Karma. It happens. It sucks. No sense letting it define you. Learn. Improve. Keep living.
- I should probably do some more hand to hand and knife tactical training if I’m going to be in countries without my firearms.
- Safe’s really are useless when you have a gun to your head.
I will say I felt a ton of relief 20 days later when my feet finally hit US soil. I am hyper vigilant. I still have heightened responses to anything that would normally only induce a small reaction. I still get lost in flashbacks and thought about how to change the outcome. But certainly I am way more comfortable back in our hometown where I am familiar. 100% DAD is picking up content production. If you haven’t seen the instagram page in a while check it out. Instagram.com/100dad