NAUGATUCK — A year after 30-year-old borough native and popular Waterbury school teacher Tim Massa was found dead in a Nassau, Bahamas, harbor, his family is still searching for answers about his mysterious death.
Gene and Deborah Massa say they are certain foul play was involved in the death of their eldest son, whose body was found outside a lavish resort on Jan. 5, 2009, and that Bahamian officials have covered it up to avoid negative publicity that could hurt tourism.
“The local officials down there seemed like they wanted to close everything up and sweep everything under the rug,” Deborah Massa said recently. “There are many inconsistencies in what the police have told us; none of it adds up.”
The Massas say they have still not received an official autopsy report, a toxicology report or a police report about what happened on the night Tim Massa’s young, promising life ended so abruptly. Medical examiners in the Bahamas ruled he drowned, but they were supposed to perform further autopsy and toxicology studies to learn more about how and why he died. So far, no results have been shared with the family.
The Royal Bahamas Police Force originally told the family it had footage of Tim Massa on video surveillance tapes from the resort lobby on the night he died but have refused to let the family see the tapes, Deborah Massa said. She said police also told the family they had an eyewitness who saw Massa running in the hotel before he disappeared but wouldn’t produce the person’s name or any evidence of that claim.
The Massa family said, and police confirmed to them, that Tim Massa had bruises on his hands and knuckles consistent with a struggle when his body was found.
“We don’t know exactly what happened, but we know this wasn’t an accident,” Deborah Massa said. “He was a strong swimmer, and he had no reason to be at the area where he was found.”
Tim Massa, who was single and had no children, was a seasoned traveler who had been on trips all over the world. On the night he died, he was on vacation for a New Year’s celebration at the high-rise Atlantis resort and hotel on Paradise Island in Nassau with his younger brother, Jeffrey, and Jeffrey’s friend.
Tim Massa was scheduled to take a flight home at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 4, 2009. He partied with his brother and friend the day before and into the night. At 1 a.m. on Jan. 4, Massa said he was going to his room. When Jeffrey and his friend arrived at the room around 5 a.m., they found most of Tim Massa’s belongings but no trace of him.
Jeffrey and his friend searched everywhere and reported him missing to police. The next night, his body was located in the water.
Glenn Miller, chief superintendent of detectives in the Royal Bahamas Police Force, told the Republican-American immediately following Massa’s death that he hoped surveillance footage would show how Massa ended up in the water. That footage and any information about whether it is available have not been revealed to the family or the newspaper, despite numerous requests.
Miller and other officials in the Bahamas could not be reached for comment last week.
Gene Massa has taken to writing letters to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asking for her assistance in finding out more about his son’s death. He also went to the Bahamas to visit with police and identify his son’s body. He said officials did not seem the least bit concerned about investigating the circumstances of his son’s death.
Gene Massa said the area’s director of tourism attended one meeting, which left him with the impression that protecting the area’s reputation as a tourist destination was the top priority.
“It’s so disheartening to think that people aren’t trying to find out what happened to him, especially the U.S. government,” Deborah Massa said. “He was a U.S. citizen, and I think they have an obligation to find out what happened. … This is every parent’s nightmare, and we’re just living through it.”
Making the grieving process a little easier, however, has been the tremendous outpouring of support the family continues to receive from the community, she said, speaking for herself, her husband and their two adult sons, Christopher and Jeffrey.
The community has helped raise money for annual scholarships given in Tim’s honor at Naugatuck High School, where he graduated in 1996, and at Waterbury Arts Magnet School, where he taught physical education for five years.
Less formally, friends stop by to check in on Gene and Deborah, especially during the holidays.
This year, the Christmas tree at the Massa household was adorned with photographs of Tim as a child and a special ornament of a suitcase in Tim’s honor to showcase his love of travel.
“We have been so fortunate to have the type of friends that we do,” Deborah Massa said.
Still, the Massas want to know what happened to their son, and they plan to find out.
“We might not have been as aggressive as we could have been in seeking information, but it’s very difficult to write all those letters and make all those phone calls because all of the emotions come up again,” Deborah Massa said. “But at the same time we need answers. I think we owe it to Tim.”