By MICHAEL NORTON, Associated Press Writer
Fri Jul 15, 2:41 PM ET
ORANJESTAD, Aruba – Yellow ribbons reminding people to keep an eye out for an Alabama teenager still flutter on tree trunks and telephone poles, but they’re unraveling and fading in the sun, along with hopes of solving the mystery of her disappearance.
Of seven men detained at various times, only one remains in jail — a Dutch youth who has admitted he was alone on a beach with 18-year-old Natalee Holloway in the early hours of May 30, the morning she vanished.
Joran van der Sloot, 17, faces no charges, and authorities can hold him until Sept. 4, when he must be charged or released.
Islanders who suddenly found their tourist-oriented Dutch Caribbean paradise thrust into the international limelight are longing for life to return to normal.
«Every time I see one of those ribbons, I think of her, and so do most Arubans. But it’s too painful to go on looking and not finding her,» said Julia Renfro, an American who has lived in Aruba for 16 years and whose International Friends of Aruba organized teams to search for Holloway.
«We all cried when Natalee went missing. But it was an isolated incident,» said Myriam Croes, 52. «We want things to go back to where Aruba was before she came.»
Croes was among more than 200 people who, wrapped in Aruban flags, demonstrated last week in front of the capital courthouse, saying they believed their island was being falsely portrayed as not doing enough to find Holloway.
Some 2,000 volunteers — most tourists — joined Dutch marines, Aruban police and FBI agents from Miami in the search for the honors student from Mountain Brook, Ala., in the first two weeks after she vanished.
They distributed photographs, knotted ribbons on boughs and doorknobs, and scoured the seaside and scrubland.
But by now, they’ve dwindled to a handful.
A team from Florida State University’s underwater crime scene investigation department left the island Tuesday.
This week, three divers and seven land searchers directed by the Dickinson-based volunteer Texas EquuSearch group postponed their departure for the third time since coming here June 23. More than 70 volunteers have taken part in their search, an effort that will Sunday.
«We want to feel in our hearts we did everything,» a tearful EquuSearch director Tim Miller said. «I’m not that optimistic anymore.»
Croes said some American television coverage unfairly depicted the island, whose economy depends on tourism, as being ridden by crime and drugs.
«We have a good (Dutch) legal system. It hurts us to have it decried. A lot of people are tired of the uproar and angry,» she said.
There has been only one murder on the island of 71,000 people this year. The last time a tourist was killed was in 1996, when an American woman was slain by two robbers who were arrested and convicted.
Like most Arubans, Croes no longer believes Holloway is on the island. «Maybe she drowned, was carried out to sea, or was eaten by sharks. It’s a mystery,» she said.
Some taxi drivers still carry photos of Holloway in their vehicles, and most Arubans sigh and shake their heads when her name is mentioned.
The story has slipped off the front pages of local newspapers, however, and on radio talk shows, people increasingly voice indignation at what they consider slurs against their island.
Many fear they’ll never know what happened to Holloway, who disappeared on her last scheduled night on the island, one that started with a party at Carlos ‘N Charlie’s restaurant, where she danced, drank and flirted with the Dutch youth and then left with him at 1 a.m.
On vacation on the island, a former U.S. congressman from New Jersey stood in the beating sun outside the courthouse where prosecutors argued in vain to an appeals court judge this week that two Surinamese friends of the Dutch teen, Satish Kalpoe, 18, and Deepak Kalpoe, 21, had been wrongly released June 4.
«The heart of every mother in the U.S. has been touched by Natalee’s disappearance,» said Frank Guarini.
«The terrible thing is, there’s no closure here,» said his sister Marie Mangin, 78, of West Orange, N.J.
That failure is something Holloway’s mother, Beth Holloway Twitty, is not prepared to contemplate. «Everybody wants to know the ending. But we don’t know if we’re searching for Natalee alive or not alive,» she said.
For the first 10 days, she expected her torment would end quickly, believing «we would take her home. Our lives would move on in the same fashion as always.»
But now, even as she plans to stay on the island indefinitely, she says she knows «my life will never be the same.»
By MICHAEL NORTON, Associated Press Writer