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How Did Rice University Student Reny Jose Vanish in Panama?

On Saturday, March 1st of 2014, Reny Jose arrived at Panama Beach, FL for a spring break trip with twenty of his friends. A native of Albany, NY, Reny had been attending Rice College in Houstin Texas. This school is known for having very bright students, and Reny maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout his time there. He was majoring in mechanical engineering and had many opportunities ahead of him.

By looking through social media, you can tell that he’s a goofball and probably the life of any party. Every picture I see of him, he is making a quirky face and the others in the picture with him are smiling from ear to ear. He seems to have one of those energies that just radiates towards anyone around him. You can also tell that he is extremely close to his sister and they are in so many pictures together.

reny jose still missing after 5 years

Not much is known about the timeline of Reny’s disappearance or what he did in those few days between the time that they arrived at the beach and his last moments. The group of twenty students were staying at a two-story beach house on the oceanfront property of Front Beach Rd. Many students were there for spring break, but the water was still very cold and many were staying away from the water. All that is known is that nothing out of the ordinary occurred, just trips to Walmart and ordering pizza. Panama Beach is known for wild parties and, especially at spring break, there’s no doubt that was happening. The group had booked this rental house for an entire week from the Saturday that they had arrived until the next Saturday. Reny spoke to his mother on the phone and told her how excited he was about the trip. He told her that he had already spoken to a few companies about job interviews that he would have when he arrived back in Houstin.

reny jose beach

On the third night of the trip, March 3rd, around 7 PM, friends reported the last sighting of Reny. There are different reports of what he was doing and how he was acting that night. A few friends stated that he had taken LSD that night and was talking about harming himself. Others said that he wasn’t suicidal and that he did take drugs, but that he did not like LSD and wouldn’t have taken it. Reny’s friends didn’t report him missing until noon on the next day, March 4th. The information online and in news articles about Reny’s disapperance has very vague details, so I spoke with Reny’s mother, Shely, to clarify a few details about the investigation into his disappearance. The police started their search at the beach house and found Reny’s clothing and cell phone near a trash can that was located on the beach. Some of the items were inside the trash can and others were around the outside of it. One interesting thing that Shely told me was that cleaners would change the trash cans every morning at 6:30, so Reny’s clothing should have been taken or moved, but they were still in that trash can when police arrived and started their search. They also found his socks on the beach and his wallet was in his room, while a pair of his pants were hanging on one of the house railings.

Reny’s family was notified and they immediately made the trip from Albany to Florida. By the time the Jose family arrived, sixteen of the twenty students on the trip had left the beach house and returned home, although they had all paid to stay until that Saturday, March the 8th. They also retained lawyers immediately and were only spoken to by police over the phone. Reny’s family begged the few remaining friends to explain what happened, but the ones who spoke had differing stories. One said that they were asleep the whole time and didn’t see anything, another said that Reny had taken LSD and went for a walk, another said that they didn’t notice Reny disappearing at all. The weather that day at Panama Beach was 57 degrees and the water was reported to be freezing. After helicopter searches over the ocean and many searches of the beach, the police settled on the theory that Reny had taken LSD and drowned in the ocean, but his family doesn’t accept this theory and they search for answers about what really happened to Reny to this day.

There are a few different theories about what could have happened to Reny and I think a lot of the questions could be answered if Reny’s classmates would speak up. In looking through the theories people have, I can’t really say which one is considered the most popular theory. It seems like all of the theories have equal amounts of speculation and probability depending on how you look at the items left behind. The first theory is what the police believe, that Reny had taken LSD that night and went into the ocean for a swim but ended up drowning. I’ve seen some people break apart this theory, also. Some believe that he drowned while enjoying the swim and others believe that he was intentionally trying to end his life. But if he was going for a swim, why would he throhis clothes into a trash can and jump into freezing water? If he drowned, why did his classmates take off immediately after reporting him missing?

The next theory is that Reny wanted to disappear and start a new life, without the pressures of his 4.0 GPA and a career after college. The Thin Air Podcast did an amazing interview with Reny’s mother and one of his friends. In this interview, the friend stated that Reny was a heavy drinker and recreational drug user. She stated that he probably did more than any of them, but she also said that he “didn’t like LSD” and she didn’t think that he would have taken it. She reflected back on a conversation that she had with Reny in which the two of them discussed whether all of this was “worth it”. The school and the career and how nice it would be to just leave all of it. The theory is that Reny was about to finish college and start the mundane daily life of a career after his school years. Maybe he just wasn’t ready for that and the pressure was too much, so he took off and faked his own disapperance. The last theory is that something darker happened that night, like a fight or an accident, that caused Reny’s death and his classmates covered it up.

Reny’s family doesn’t believe that any of these theories are possible, except that his classmates must have had something to do with his disappearance. They are angry, and rightly so, that the police have settled on a theory without a further investigation into the other students on that trip. Reny’s mother denied that her son had ever taken drugs and that he wasn’t a drinker or suicidal. She said that he was a 4.0 student and wouldn’t have been able to maintain that while taking drugs or partying. Unfortunately, some of the biggest partiers that I knew in school were also the smartest, but I don’t know for sure if Reny was or was not one of those people.

I am deeply saddened for Reny’s family and the posts on his Facebook page are heartbreaking. You can see how deeply his family cares for him and I’m amazed at how active they still are after the many years that he has been missing. They have so many organized events to spread Reny’s story, but yet, there is little information about his case online and almost no podcast coverage of him. Why is this? Is it because of the circumstances surrounding his disappearance? Is it because we write him off as another student who might have made bad decisions and paid for them with his life? I think that we do this in a lot of cases with different aspects. If a prostitute or a drug addict goes missing, we add them to the list as another name and we don’t think about the family searching for them. If a woman was in an abusive relationship and goes missing, we see it as another case of a beaten woman and don’t share the story. In Reny’s case, and many others like his, a student goes missing while enjoying one phase of his young life and we choose to forget how invincible and care free we felt at that age.  I’m a mother now and when I reflect on decisions I made at a younger age, I think about how incredibly stupid I was and I don’t understand how I thought those things were a good idea. We grow older and wiser and then have our own children to worry about doing those same things. Regardless of what Reny was doing in those hours before his disappearance, he had a family who loved him dearly and he had a bright future ahead of him. His family deserves the answers that they so desperately need. Shortly after his disapperance, Reny’s cap and gown for graduation was mailed to his home in Albany, and his mother cradled it while she wept. Her son should have been graduating with honors. He should have been there to walk across that stage and receive the degree that he had worked so hard for, but he missed that along with countless other important moments.

I feel like this should go without saying, but when you’re young you don’t think about the dangers of things like you would as an adult. If you are in high school or college or on spring break, please take care of your friends. It sounds dumb to say “use the buddy system”, but use it. If your friend mentions harming themselves, don’t leave them alone. If they are on a drug or drinking and acting out of character, make sure they are safe and don’t leave them alone. Don’t leave friends alone at parties, don’t let them get in a car when they’ve been drinking. I just needed to throw in that PSA.

In my opinion, I think that two of these theories are very possible and I can’t say that one is more probable than the other. Unfortunately, I think it is possible that Reny took LSD that night and was probably drinking with his friends. When he told his friends that he “didn’t like LSD”, that tells me that he might have taken it in the past and didn’t care for it much, but that doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t have taken it during a special occassion in a special place with friends who were also taking it. Reny had that goofy personality that made everybody laugh and I personally know someone like that that will do anything to make those around him smile. I can see Reny choosing to streak into the cold ocean air and jump into that water to get laughs out of everybody. I spoke with someone who has taken LSD in the past and I was told that it causes your body to overheat very easily in the same way that alcohol can. I think he may have exited the house with his friends, put his clothes into the trash, and ran towards the ocean while throwing off his socks on the beach. I believe it’s possible that he drowned or died due to the temperatures of the water. Witnessing this, I’m sure his friends would panic and feel responsible for what had happened. They could have tried to stop him, but they were also drunk and high. Others were asleep and didn’t see what happened. No one else would have seen this happen because most people weren’t on the beach during this time of year and it was night time. This is the only reason I can see his classmates quickly returning home and getting lawyers unless they caused his death. The theory of his friends causing his disappearance is the only other likely scenario, in my opinion. Reny’s family brings up many good points concerning why the classmates returned home so quickly with lawyers and why Reny would have put his clothes in the trash. How can sixteen people just leave a situation like that without aiding in the search for their friend or speaking to police to help in any way that they can? How were they able to walk across the graduation stage without speaking about Reny and the circumstances surrounding why they left so early? I feel like this should have been looked into more thoroughly, but the police hit a brick wall against the lawyers. I don’t believe that Reny was trying to commit suicide or chose to disappear and start a new life. Reny was very close to his sister and I don’t believe that he could just walk away to leave his family worrying. He was about to graduate and he was excited about the interviews he had coming up. Even if he wondered whether it was “all worth it”, he was an adult and he didn’t have to continue on that career path if he didn’t want to. How many of us have reached the end of our degree and realized that we actually hated what we thought we wanted to do? However, we move forward and find a job we enjoy even if it’s not what we expected.

I want to end this episode by reading a post by Reny’s sister on Facebook. The words were so heartbreaking that I truly teared up reading them. It said, “. It almost feels like yesterday that this all happened, but then I think of all the events that have taken place in your absence and it hits me how long it’s been since I last saw you. LeBron now plays for the Lakers, the Eagles won the Super Bowl last year, Donald Trump is president and countless other events have taken place. And the only thing I think about is how much I wish you were here because in typical Reny fashion, you would have had something hilarious, sarcastic or insightful to say. All I can say is that I miss you. I miss your pranks. I miss your 2am texts asking if I’d bake you cookies. I miss all your culinary escapades. I miss driving around aimlessly in the car you lovingly named Escobar. But most of all, I miss all the witty banter and long conversations about everything and nothing. There are so many people who still acutely feel your absence and that is a testament to your character. We love you. We miss you and we will never stop searching, hoping and praying.”

At the time of his disapperance, Reny was 21 years old and he would now be 27. He was 5’10“ and 220 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes. Reny was Asian and of Indian descent. What do you think happened to Reny Jose? Do you think he accidentally drowned or do you think his classmates did something to him on that cold March night? Maybe you think he committed suicide or chose to disappear and start a new life. Either way, I would love to hear your theories and case suggestions for future episodes. You can contact me on Facebook by searching The Missing Podcast or find me on Instagram @missingpodcast. If you enjoyed this episode, I also highly suggest listening to the interview with Reny’s mother on the Thin Air podcast.

Hey y'all I'm the main story teller on our podcast episodes. You can suggest stories for me to cover by leaving a comment on any post on this site, which I will see and respond to. If you want to listen and subscribe to the podcast just search Talk Murder To Me in any podcasting app. Thanks for reading, please share!

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