Family concerned for school teacher Gil Cunha who vanished from Connecticut home after experiencing COVID-19 symptoms

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By Andrea Cavallier

Nearly eight weeks have passed since a beloved Connecticut school teacher disappeared in the early morning hours of his 50th birthday on May 7, 2020, and family members are worried sick.

Gil Cunha

Gil Cunha, 50, was last seen just after midnight on May 7, at his parents’ home in the area of West Shore in West Haven, Connecticut, according to a press release issued by the West Haven Police Department.

Gil’s cousin, Lori Kenney, told Dateline that Gil’s father saw him watching TV between the hours of 12 a.m. and 2 a.m. Later that morning, Gil’s mother woke up to find that Gil was gone.

“It wasn’t unusual for Gil to go out for a walk,” Lori said. “But when he didn’t return later that day, she knew something was wrong. He wouldn’t just take off without contacting his family.”

Both Lori, and Bob Tavares, who is another of Gil’s cousins, told Dateline that the family was also concerned because Gil had been experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and had self-quarantined for three weeks prior to his disappearance.

“He was never tested for the virus. But he wasn’t feeling well and decided to self-isolate in his room because he was afraid he had the virus,” Lori said. “He wanted to make sure his family was safe.”

Lori added that the family has considered that Gil's disappearance may be directly related to the Coronavirus, as symptoms can include altered mental status and confusion.

“But why haven’t we found him? Where did he go? Where is he?” Lori asked. She said these are questions she finds herself asking daily. “If something happened to him because of the virus, or if he harmed himself, or even if someone did something to him, we would still find him. But he’s just gone without a trace.”

Lori told Dateline that Gil had left behind two cell phones, credit and debit cards, cash and his passport. The only item that appeared to be missing is his driver’s license.

“It was all there,” Lori said. “As if he intended to come back.”

Gil’s cousins told Dateline they have no reason to believe that Gil would harm himself or that anyone would harm him. They added that he had spoken to his brother shortly before his disappearance and expressed how excited he was to visit him in New York when the pandemic ends.

Gil, who had been living in Europe for the last decade and working as a teacher in Portugal and Turkey, had temporarily moved back to his parents’ house in West Haven in November. He began working as a teacher for the West Haven Public School system until the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down.

“One of Gil's greatest concerns was for those of his students who rely on getting breakfast and lunch meals from school,” Lori said. “He told me, ‘Sadly, these students still need to eat’ and he was worried about how the students would have access to these meals during the state's mandated closing. Gil's concern for this, speaks to his integrity and how he genuinely cares for his students.”

Growing up, Gil and his two brothers spent a lot of time with their cousins, who describe him as a “kind and gentle, highly responsible person with a warm heart.”

“There were 16 of us and we all got together for weekly visits to our grandparents’ house and during the holidays to celebrate together,” Lori said. “We are a close-knit family and although we don't all still live in the New Haven area, we see each other often during family celebrations and during the holidays.”

Gil, who is also described as a talented guitar player, planned to perform via Zoom with some of his friends later in the evening of the day he disappeared.

“He is an aspiring songwriter and he keeps a journal of his thoughts which he translates into beautiful song lyrics,” Lori told Dateline. “I have had the pleasure of reading his journal and I was fascinated with his poetry.”

The same cousins are now working together with many of Gil's friends as a team to help find Gil and bring him back home.

An investigation was launched by the West Haven Police Department and searches were conducted following Gil’s disappearance. Search teams scoured the dense woods and shoreline near Gil’s home with canines and drones.

More than 400 missing person fliers were posted in the first 24 hours, Gil’s cousin Bob told Dateline. The family also later hired private drone operators and cadaver canines, but found no trace of Gil.

Through the cooperative effort of Lamar Advertising, billboards with Gil’s photo and information are posted on Interstate 95 and Interstate 91 in the New Haven, Connecticut area.

“We just feel as though we have exhausted our local efforts at this point,” Bob told Dateline. “We’re hoping by spreading the word, someone who knows something will come forward with information. We just want to bring him home.”

Gil is described as being 5’10” tall and approximately 175 pounds. He has a shaved head and full beard and mustache. He was last seen wearing a gray and blue windbreaker and a red bandana to cover his nose and mouth.

Anyone with information about the whereabouts of Gil Cunha is asked to contact the West Haven Police at 203-937-3900.