THE WOODLANDS, Texas—Four governments, and now a grieving family in the Woodlands, are trying to find out how two women died under suspicious circumstances in Vietnam.
"She enjoyed life. She was eager for everything that came along, which is probably why she went to Korea," said Velma Jacobs are her Montgomery County home.
Jacobs’ 27-year-old granddaughter, Karin Joy Bowerman, was a schoolteacher in Seoul, South Korea, teaching English to young Korean students. Her grandmother said Bowerman began the teaching tour back in 2008 and had returned to Seoul for a second tour, because she loved the work so much.
"She was excited about it. A wonderful opportunity," said Jacobs. "And she loved those little kids. They were hers. They called her Karin Teacher."
Jacobs said Bowerman took a backpacking vacation in Vietnam with friend Cathy Huyhn, 26, from Canada.
On July 30, 2012, Huynh rushed Bowerman to a hospital in the coastal city of Nha Trang. She was suffering severe respiratory distress. She died in the hospital that same night. Two days later, Huynh returned to Khanh Hoa Province General Hospital with similar symptoms. Doctors could not save her, either.
Published reports in Vietnam quote the former chief of the hospital ruling out food or alcohol poisoning in their deaths. But he did not rule out the possibility the women had been poisoned—either accidentally or on purpose. Tissue samples were collected from both women, but autopsy results may take weeks to process.
"It’s just so hard to believe she’s gone," said Jacobs. "I can’t believe it. I just kept saying, ‘No, no, no, it can’t be. There must be a mistake.’ But there isn’t, I guess."
Bowerman is also survived by two sisters in the Houston area.
In her grief, Jacobs is also suspicious, because her granddaughter’s is not the first mysterious death abroad. Two Canadian sisters, Noemi and Audrey Belanger of Quebec City, were found dead in their hotel room on Phi Phi Island, south of Bangkok, Thailand, on June 15, 2012. The cause of their deaths has not been publicly revealed, but investigators said the evidence was consistent with poisoning by an unknown substance or a severe reaction to food.
"They still haven’t said what killed them," said Jacobs. "They said the tests came back and they were inconclusive. And I’m worried that’s what gonna happen with Kari. They’re not gonna really tell us."
Bowerman was cremated, Huhyn reportedly was not. Both families are now trying to raise the money needed to bring their daughters home.