Answers sought in women's deaths
ROCHESTER, Minn. Family and friends of a Winona State University graduate who died in Vietnam under unexplained circumstances have launched a letter-writing campaign to get the U.S. government to seek answers.
Kari Bowerman, 27, of Lake Geneva and her friend Cathy Huynh, 26, of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, became sick and died shortly after they arrived in Vietnam in late July for a vacation. Their families say they've been unable to obtain an explanation of why they died from Vietnamese authorities or U.S. consular officials in Vietnam.
Friends and family theorize the women might have died of some type of insecticide poisoning, the Post-Bulletin of Rochester reported Monday.
"It's been two months and we still have nothing," said Carrie Meiners, who was Bowerman's best friend in college and one of the campaign's principal organizers.
Bowerman's sister Ashley Bowerman said their campaign has spread to at least 12 states. Minnesota Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Tim Walz are among the targets.
"I'm incredibly saddened and troubled by Kari and Cathy's deaths," said Franken in a written statement to the newspaper. "I know a lot of people in Minnesota have questions about what exactly happened to these young women, and I'm going to be doing what I can to get answers."
Wisconsin lawmakers also have been contacted.
"We sent letters from Wisconsin friends to Sen. (Herb) Kohl on Friday," Bowerman said. "We have friends in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Florida, Iowa and California conducting letter-writing campaigns and sending them off to members of Congress."
Ashley Bowerman, who now lives in Houston, said her sister Jennifer Jaques in Houston and a sister in Kenosha, Jodi Jaques, are assisting in the effort. Their parents are deceased.
Kari Bowerman graduated from Lake Geneva Badger High School in 2003. She received an undergraduate degree from Winona State in 2008.
According to news reports, Huynh took Bowerman to a hospital in the tourist city of Nha Trang on July 30 after both became sick and repeatedly vomited that day.
Bowerman deteriorated rapidly and was put on a respirator but died that night. Huynh was released from the hospital after a few hours and returned to her hotel room, but she returned to the hospital a few days later with similar symptoms and died.
Both women had been working as English teachers in South Korea and traveled to Vietnam during a break from school.
The friends said their efforts to learn more about what happened have been stymied. Kari Bowerman's body was cremated sometime after Vietnamese authorities told one of her sisters in a phone conversation that she had died. An autopsy was reportedly performed but the results are still pending, they say.
And to get Huynh's body back into Canada, it had to be embalmed, they said, possibly limiting the evidence that could be gleaned from an autopsy.
Bowerman's friends and family say the deaths fit a pattern that they say are mysterious travelers' deaths in Southeast Asia in recent years.
Dorothy Pettit, a Caledonia Elementary School teacher who supervised Bowerman when she was a student teacher, said she has been approached by other teachers at the school who plan to send letters.
Pettit said Bowerman knew there was some risk in traveling overseas and that if something happened to her, she wanted her funeral to be a celebration of life.
Pettit, who attended the funeral, said the service, though "sad" and "heartbreaking," was true to Bowerman's wish.
"It was about Karin the teacher," she said.