The disappearance of the Bravo family, reported last week in Naugatuck, Connecticut, seemed to have all the makings of a newsworthy mystery.
First to notice their absence were school officials, who became concerned when 14-year-old Christopher Bravo and his little sister, 11-year-old Samantha Bravo, failed to show up for the start of classes on Aug. 27 having left for summer break at the end of the previous term, in June.
Curious officials who headed out to the family’s home on Wednesday grew more concerned to find the home had been sold — the Bravos gone.
Parents Andres Bravo, 43, and 33-year-old Jennifer Cubillos had left no forwarding information. Their cell phone numbers were no longer active. Relatives said they hadn’t heard from them since Aug. 11, and the last time anyone recalled seeing Bravo and Cubillos was in late June or early July at a local bank.
“I’ve been in law enforcement for the past 27 years and I’ve never had a case before where we had an entire family go missing,” Naugatuck Police Department Lt. Bryan Cammarata tells PEOPLE.
And then on Monday morning, after five worrisome days, the mystery was solved. Naugatuck police announced on Facebook that the family had been found.
“Everybody’s fine,” Cammarata says. “They are perfectly fine. They are actually vacationing.”
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Out of respect for the family’s privacy, authorities are not releasing further details about the case, including why the Bravos left the way they did or where they are, though Cammarata says he can confirm that the family is not in Connecticut.
He stresses that there is “no criminal aspect to this situation” and that there is “absolutely no wrongdoing on the part of the family.”
The in-depth investigation — including missing-persons alerts — was launched as the result of what Cammarata calls an unusual “chain of circumstances” that raised several red flags.
Cammarata explains: “What made this complicated is that there weren’t the usual points of contact for re-establishment.”
In an Era of Cell Phones & Social Media, a Family Simply Vanishes
People move every day, says Cammarata. But what set this case apart was that few people had any idea why dad Andres Bravo and mom Jennifer Cubillos sold their house and were relocating, where they were headed or even that they were on vacation.
Relatives thought they might be going to Florida, but investigators couldn’t substantiate that last week.
“It’s one thing to move but another to not really have, for any number of weeks, any contact with anybody and have the numbers they were using not working anymore,” Cammarata says.
In many cases where authorities are seeking to track down people who have seemingly gone off the grid, they will ultimately reach a friend or relative who can clear up any confusion.
But in this case, Cammarata says, the Bravo family had only had sporadic contact with relatives, who told police they believed the family was planning to move south but that they hadn’t spoken with the foursome in nearly a month.
That, coupled with the traditional signs of a disappearance, led to mounting concern.
“[The relatives] wanted to put them out as missing,” Cammarata says.
Authorities agreed: “We wanted to make sure they were okay but there were things not adding up, which is the reason why we were looking into it.”
How the Mystery Was Solved
Cammarata says Naugatuck police worked round-the-clock to find the missing family. Not long after the case started making headlines, Bravo called authorities to say they were fine.
“Little bits of information that were coming in from us putting this out [in the media and on social media] gave us information to kick some rocks over to get the family to contact us back,” Cammarata says.
On Friday night, police got the call they had hoped for and were “pretty positive” they had located the family, he says. Still, it took some time for them to go to police in person and confirm their location and welfare.
Cammarata tells PEOPLE he doesn’t know whether the family is aware that their disappearance made national news. But he is relieved they are safe and sound.
“Now that we have spoken with them, we see it was an unintended sequence of events that turned it into what it was,” he says. “They weren’t trying to be unreachable. It just worked out that way.”