Family of Aussie teacher missing in Africa receive odd WhatsApp message

The family of an Australian music teacher missing in Africa are fearing the worst after receiving an “odd” message from his WhatsApp account.

Mark Ciavarella, from the NSW Hunter region, had been living and teaching in Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo for six years. The 56-year-old disappeared two weeks ago on October 26 after spending the day before with his friends.

Mr Ciavarella, a “gifted” and “selfless” teacher, left all his belongings in his apartment in Brazzaville, with only his phone missing.

Teacher Mark Ciavarella smiles for a photo. He is now missing in the Republic of Congo.
Mark Ciavarella, from NSW, is missing in Africa and hasn't been seen since October 26. Source: Facebook

After failing to show up to meetings and classes, the school community became worried, Mr Ciavarella’s cousin Ross Ciavarella told Channel 7.

“It was just very uncharacteristic,” Ross said. “He always puts his kids first and he hadn’t turned up to a few lessons and things like that. So the school got worried and everyone started looking for him.”

Mr Ciavarella’s brother Darren last spoke to him two days before he disappeared – where they spoke for hours – but didn’t find out he was missing until last Friday

“For him to disappear and not be there for these kids is out of the ordinary,” Darren said. “(We have) very big concerns. There are some very odd things that have happened.”

Mysterious message from WhatsApp account

Since his disappearance, the family have received a message from Mr Ciavarella’s WhatsApp account. It shows a video of an unidentified African man but Mr Ciavarella’s phone has been uncontactable ever since.

“It’s basically a very short video of a Congolese man's foot, or men’s feet, in that video, which indicates obviously someone has his phone or they’ve got his phone now,” Darren Ciavarella told Sunrise. “So we’re a little bit lost at the moment because we can’t get through on that phone. So they’ve obviously switched sim cards or something.”

Darren said his brother knew Brazzaville was a dangerous spot but he was “very passionate” about teaching the children in Africa.

The missing man’s cousin, Nick Ciavarella, told Channel 7 the family is extremely concerned for his welfare.

“We think something untoward has happened. It feels that way,” Nick said.

A google maps image showing an aerial shot of Brazzaville, where Mark Ciavarella lived.
Mr Ciavarella had lived in Brazzaville for six years. Source: Google Maps

Person of interest as ‘secret service’ join search

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs is attempting to help Mr Ciavarella’s family, but with the closest Australian Embassy 3000km away in Zimbabwe, assistance is proving difficult.

Mr Ciavarella is also an Italian citizen and the Italian embassy in Brazzaville is working with DFAT.

Darren Ciavarella said he received a call from the Italian consulate who said they have “boots on the ground” and have engaged the equivalent of the secret service to investigate.

“There is a person of interest, I won’t discuss his name at this point,” Darren said. “So we’re hoping they’ll actually get hold of this person and shed some light on the situation at hand.”

Yahoo News Australia has contacted DFAT for comment.

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