Drew DeVoursney and girlfriend Francesca Matus were found dead on Monday in Belize, days after vanishing

By Adam Carlson
May 02, 2017 01:58 PM

Drew DeVoursney had it all planned out.

A 36-year-old Marine Corps veteran, DeVoursney moved to Belize in December but would be flying back to Georgia in May. His girlfriend, Francesca Matus, would leave Belize as well and return to Toronto, while DeVoursney headed to Atlanta, where he’d been accepted to a local school to learn how to operate heavy equipment.

But they never made it home.

According to DeVoursney’s family and multiple news reports, the couple vanished last week after leaving a bar in Belize’s Corozal District, which borders the southeastern tip of Mexico.

They were last seen about 11 p.m. on April 25, DeVoursney’s mother, Char DeVoursney, tells PEOPLE.

Matus, 52, was to fly out first, the next day. But Char says a friend who was going to drive her to the airport that Wednesday morning arrived at her Corozal home to find she wasn’t there — and neither was her vehicle.

On Monday afternoon, her and Drew’s bodies were reportedly found in the village of Chan Chen in Corozal.

Drew DeVoursney

Char says the couple’s hands had been duct-taped and that she was told they were killed and left in a somewhat remote area, with their vehicle found in good condition about 10 miles away.

She says she has been in touch daily with the U.S. Embassy, who has been providing limited information from Belize police as the investigation continues.

“They said they were murdered,” she says.

According to the Canadian Press, Breaking Belize News and News 5 Live, a Belize TV station, Drew and Matus were strangled and their bodies were discovered “in an advanced state of decomposition.”

Their deaths are being investigated as homicides, the Press reports.

Belize police and the U.S. State Department did not return messages seeking comment. U.S. officials told ABC News they are aware of the case.

Austin Jean, a spokesperson for government agency Global Affairs Canada, tells PEOPLE in a statement: “Our thoughts are with the loved ones of the Canadian citizen who passed away in Belize. Consular services are being provided to the family during this difficult time.”

Jean says that Canadian consular officials are working with Belize authorities but declined to provide more information, citing the privacy of Matus’ family.

Francesca Matus
Source: Francesca Matus/Facebook

One local in Corozal Town, the district’s capital, tells PEOPLE, “Our community is devastated like so many people all over the world. What else can I say? Corozal is a very small town where the people are one, especially during times like this.”

People in the area, including North Americans, helped search for Drew and Matus in the days before they were found dead, according to the local, who asked not to be identified by name.

“This is very shocking,” the local says, “because this is a peaceful place and we hardly every hear of this kind of killing.”

According to the State Department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council, the Corozal District — which is relatively sparsely populated and smaller than Rhode Island — had seven reported murders in 2016, the second-lowest rate among the country’s six districts and one-tenth of the highest rate.

For comparison, there were 335 reported murders in New York City in 2016, according to the city’s statistics, or about four per 100,000 residents, a lower rate than in Corozal.

“There is no indication that foreigners are broadly targeted,” according to a 2017 OSAC guide on crime and safety in Belize, and “a significant portion” of the country’s murders are due to domestic violence.

However, the guide advises caution in less urban areas.

“Many of the Western expatriates were killed in rural areas of Belize … in 2015 and 2016,” the guide states. “As a result, particular caution and situational awareness should be exercised when living in smaller communities.”

Char, Drew’s mother, says his younger brother, David, has headed to Belize to retrieve his body as funeral details are pending. A GoFundMe page was created to help “with anything,” she says.

She hopes for more information Tuesday afternoon on what happened. She notes that Drew did not have any conflicts in Belize and, she was told, the area where he lived had a low crime rate.

“I don’t know anything yet,” she says.

‘My Adventure Boy’

Char had a nickname for Drew, she says: “I always called him ‘my adventure boy.’ ”

“He just kept pursuing the next thing he wanted to do and he was really good at it,” she says.

Drew was born in Georgia but grew up in Nashville, Tennessee — the son of a singer-songwriter dad — and he attended college in North Carolina on a soccer and academic scholarship, Char says.

But after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he dropped out and enlisted as a Marine, ultimately serving two tours in Iraq before working for two more years as a contractor, in Afghanistan.

David, two years his junior, served in the Air Force for 10 years, doing seven tours in the Middle East, Char says. He was an aerial gunner and performed search and rescue operations.

She says she’s not quite sure where their military drive came from (though she jokes that they loved their G.I Joe action figures as kids).

Having two sons serve overseas “was very, very stressful,” Char tells PEOPLE. But what’s happened to Drew is something else.

“[I’ve] been through so much with both of them doing so many tours in Afghanistan and Iraq — and then going through all that, he [Drew] always stayed in touch,” she explains. “So when he wasn’t in touch with this happening, we knew something was really weird.”

“You can imagine me worrying about him doing the military thing,” she continues. “This was much more worrisome, going through this process of not knowing.”

Drew DeVoursney

Until his death, David was often on the move, back and forth across the U.S. and internationally, his mom says. “He wasn’t going to stay still somewhere.”

After the Marines and his contractor job, having worked stints in Charleston, South Carolina, and on solar panel farms in California — with a period in between learning how to work on oil rigs in Texas — Drew headed to Belize, Char says.

He’d trained as a master diver in Florida.

“Part of his plan was to go to Belize and teach people how to dive,” she says. He bought four acres of land there about four years ago, as an investment, and had been to Belize multiple times before moving in December.

He met Matus, his girlfriend, about two or three months ago, Char says. Matus was planning to return to her native Ontario, Canada, and Drew planned to return to Georgia to join David at a school in the Atlanta area.

On the day he disappeared, Drew was going to buy his plane ticket, Char says. She last spoke to him two weeks ago. He told her he was coming home.

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PEOPLE’s efforts to reach Matus’ friends and family were unsuccessful Tuesday, but some of those who knew her mourned her on Facebook. One person wrote, “Her smile was infectious and could light up a room. She had such a zest for life and will be deeply missed.”

Another echoed that, writing, “May your free spirit live in those you left behind.”

“Woke up this morning with the gut wrenching realization that this isn’t a bad dream,” her cousin Ivana Pucci wrote. “You are so very loved and I promise we will find out who did this to you.”

“She loved it there and felt safe,” Pucci told the Canadian Press. “She did tell us it was lawless there, but she felt safe in her little community.”

Pucci said Matus has two adult sons, twins, who are 22 years old. She grew up in a large Italian-Canadian family and worked part of the year as a mortgage broker.

“She was 52 in a 35-year-old body,” Pucci said. “She really was such a beautiful person — both inside and out — and she did not deserve this. Nobody does.”

‘Day 1 of Justice’

Drew’s best friend, Brandon Barfield, created the GoFundMe in the wake of his disappearance. On Tuesday, he wrote about his friend’s death and what comes next.

“Today is Day 1 because it is the beginning to finding out the truth about what happened to Drew and Francesca,” wrote Barfield, who previously served with Drew in Iraq. “It breaks my heart knowing that Drew and I have survived so many near death situations and laughed about it, and now I have to bring his body home.

“Today is Day 1 of Justice. I will not let anyone to allow his death be the end of it all. Today is the day where I demand answers to so many questions all of us have.”