NAUGATUCK — For five years, Gene and Debbie Massa have done everything they could to discover what happened to their first-born son, Tim, who died mysteriously in the Bahamas on Jan. 5, 2009.
They now realize the mystery will probably never be solved.
The Massas have met with federal officials, obtained the services of an attorney and hired a private investigator. They have traveled to the Bahamas to meet with local officials. Still, their efforts have yielded few results. Now the Massas must face a hard truth: Despite their best efforts, they may never know how or why their son died.
“We investigated for years because we wanted answers, and we felt that we owed it to Timmy to try to learn what happened,” Debbie Massa said. “But they were giving us the runaround and, eventually we had no choice but to stop.”
Debbie and Gene Massa have no doubt that Tim Massa’s death was no accident. Massa, a physical education teacher at Waterbury Arts Magnet School, was found in a harbor near the Atlantis resort and hotel in Paradise Island in Nassau on Jan. 5, 2009.
Massa, who was 30, had partied all night on Jan. 3 with his youngest brother, Jeffrey, and two other friends who were on vacation. At 1 a.m. on Jan. 4, Tim Massa said he was going back to his hotel room because he had an early flight to catch. When his brother and friends arrived at the room around 5 a.m., they saw all of Tim Massa’s belongings but no trace of him.
After a two-day search, Massa’s body was pulled from the water on a Monday evening.
His father, Gene, immediately flew to the Bahamas to claim his son’s body. Gene Massa says he saw scrapes and bruises on his son’s hands and knuckles, suggesting he may have been involved in a fight. But, Gene and Debbie Massa say, the Royal Bahamas Police Force was quick to dismiss the evidence. They seemed in a rush to close their investigation. They ruled Tim Massa’s death an accidental drowning.
Debbie and Gene Massa, who live in Naugatuck and are both teachers, say they were sickened by how little officials in the Bahamas seemed to care about their son. It seems, they say, that the officials were more concerned with avoiding a public relations problem for the tourism industry than finding out what actually happened.
For example, they say, the first meeting they had to discuss Tim Massa’s death was attended by the director of tourism for the area. At the meeting, when Gene and Jeff demanded action, they were told that the government had the right to keep Tim’s body for up to 30 days.
“We couldn’t bear the thought of not bringing Tim home right away, so we backed off,” Gene Massa said.
Initially, police officials said there was no surveillance footage that would cast light on the circumstances of Tim Massa’s death. Years later, however, the hotel did produce tapes, though they did little to clear up the family’s questions.
It is difficult to say whether Tim is the person on the tapes, Debbie Massa said. Still, she said, it looks like the person on the tape is being chased by someone, leading to further questions from the Massas.
“Over the past few years, it has been very difficult obtaining official records,” Debbie Massa said. “A few months after Tim’s death, a Bahamian official called to say they had a report, but later called back to say it was on the wrong body.”
The actual death certificate states that Tim Massa died of an accidental drowning. But it also states that it was “inconclusive pending further investigation,” Debbie Massa said.
“We never did receive a follow-up report,” she said.
Police initially told the Massas they had an eyewitness who had seen Tim Massa running through the hotel lobby. But the police never produced the witness’s name or statement.
“Their stories changed so many times that there was no way we could believe them,” Debbie Massa said.
Chris Massa, Tim’s brother, said he respects the lengths that his parents have gone to to learn more about Tim’s death.
“They certainly did their best to exhaust all possible avenues,” said Chris Massa, a staff photographer at the Republican-American. “I think the Bahamian government could have done a lot more to investigate this, but it doesn’t seem like they wanted to. That was tough to deal with.”
Debbie Massa knows she will never get over the hurt. She wishes those who had the ability to help would have done more to find out what happened to her son.
“I get sick to my stomach when I see the Atlantis commercials on TV which show the resort as a sort of tropical paradise,” she said. “I have to turn the channel or leave the room. But then we get people who hear Tim’s story and they tell us they vow to never vacation at the Atlantis, that does give us some comfort because it’s a small victory and it shows that people care.
“Over the years, the love and support we have received from friends and family have helped us through the dark days,” she said, adding that the family was overjoyed that Waterbury Arts Magnet School named its gym after her son last year. “We will never stop wondering what happened and asking why, but we have decided to no longer actively pursue the investigation.”