There’s an old saying, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
The old cliche could be applied to the case of Renato Gomes Da Rocha, a 48-year-old Brazilian national who disappeared from the Island without a trace almost 18 months ago. On an Island where instances of missing persons are rare, the case of Mr. Da Rocha has largely remained under the radar of public attention, despite evidence that Mr. Da Rocha may have been the victim of foul play.
Police believe a roommate of Mr. Da Rocha stole money from his bank account after he went missing and then fled to Brazil. Police have been reluctant to call this person, Daglio Alberto Pinto, a suspect in a murder, but have called him a person of interest in their investigation.
Back in April, a partially decomposed corpse washed ashore in Edgartown harbor which matched a general description of Mr. Da Rocha. A month later, a spokesman for the state medical examiner’s office confirmed the body was the victim of homicide, although the Cape and Island district attorney’s office later said they were unable to confirm the cause of death.
Meanwhile, the medical examiner’s office has yet to identify the body, a full five months after it was recovered.
It all begs the question: if a Brazilian goes missing or is murdered on the Vineyard, does anyone really notice?
With Mr. Da Rocha’s family back in Brazil, there has been nobody here to voice outrage and despair over his disappearance. There have been no candlelight vigils, no public demands for justice, no offers of reward.
While the 2002 murder of Christa Worthington in Truro and the 2004 murder of Elizabeth Lochtefeld on Nantucket made national headlines, the case of Mr. Da Rocha has gone largely unnoticed by the media save for several stories in this newspaper.
The stories of Ms. Worthington and Ms. Lochtefeld made better headlines than the disappearance of a carpenter from Brazil. Ms. Worthington was a glamorous former fashion writer whose murder was the subject of several books and features on national programs like 48 Hours on CBS. Ms. Lochtefeld was a New Yorker who sold her share in a multi-million dollar consulting firm; her murder by a former Wall Street executive warranted daily coverage from Court TV to CNBC.
But the story of Mr. Da Rocha has warranted not even a fraction of that attention. That may be because there has been little to report — no arrests have been made and no murder weapons have been found.
Nobody is suggesting that police and prosecutors aren’t pursuing this case with due diligence. On the contrary, investigators have diligently tracked every lead and followed every clue. Just this week, state police said DNA samples had been collected that could finally identify the recovered body, and a break in the investigation may be right around the corner.
But there is still something peculiar when a case of a missing person surrounded by so much evidence of foul play barely manages to stir up any public interest or attention.
Whether it is a product of a cultural divide or even a media bias, it seems the proverbial tree has fallen in the forest and no one has cared to listen. There is little doubt the disappearance of a college student from Boston or an artist from New York on the Vineyard under such conspicuous circumstances would make regional if not national headlines.
The newspaper profession is often criticized for sensationalizing stories to sell newspapers, but there is something wrong with the lack of sensational coverage surrounding the disappearance of Mr. Da Rocha. It seems that anyone who goes missing for over a year should warrant some public attention or media scrutiny.
And that standard should apply to everyone, whether they hail from Manhattan, New York or Espirito Santo, Brazil.