"Music blared as the McGowans waited. They don’t recall what was playing, just that it was loud and a few people were dancing in the middle of the lobby. Fifteen minutes passed. Then a half hour. There was an hour time difference between Wisconsin and Playa del Carmen. Maybe the kids were confused. Their cellphones weren’t getting service, so Ginny went to the desk to ask hotel staff to please call the kids’ room.
The woman behind the desk appeared flustered. She went to get a manager. They asked where Ginny’s husband was. She needed to get him and they needed to hurry. There had been an accident, the hotel workers told them.
Abbey and Austin were at a hospital.
They had both been found unconscious, face down in the pool."
I've been watching this story since it first hit the media in January when it happened. Our family have kids in the same age group. We've also heard stories of corrupt police and bribes first hand from friends who have traveled to Mexico (and our oldest teen daughter was with one of them at the time on a vacation as well) and we've had our own experience with questionable drinks served to me and my college daughter. In our case we had a couple male members of our party who did not order drinks but simply ordered a couple bottled beers join us, and we met up with more non-drinking members of our large extended family group before heading back over the border to the US side. My daughter and I had ordered a frozen margarita. I have no idea what was actually in that drink but it wasn't a margarita and it wasn't just alcohol. We still have some frustrations and bad memories about that evening so I'm not going to go into specifics. However, we are blessed that we had male non-drinking male members of our group with us that evening. The effects of that "margarita" didn't wear off until after our daughter had passed out around 10:00 pm that evening with no memory of the previous 5-6 hours.
Source: After Woman’s Mysterious Death At Mexico Resort, Tourists Report Similar Incidents
Austin and Abbey were found unresponsive inside the hotel pool and taken to a nearby hospital. Austin suffered a broken collar bone and was able to recover. Abbey, however, was in a coma and later died.
“I’ve been in college for five years and had my fair share of drinks before,” Austin told the Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel last week. “No way in hell I’m putting my face down in a pool and going to sleep.”
The investigation into Abbey's death by Mexican authorities was limited: Only three hotel employees were interviewed, according to the Sentinel. Abbey’s father, Bill Conner, said he thought she may have been drugged.
“Somebody just had to slip them some type of drug,” he said.
The Conners were not the first to report mysterious events and ultimately, tragedy, during their time at a luxury resort in Mexico. An investigation by the Journal Sentinel revealed other tourists found themselves in unexplainable situations with no memory of what had occurred.
One Wisconsin woman told the Journal Sentinel she was assaulted while she and her husband were unconscious. An ob-gyn confirmed she had, in fact, been assaulted. Her husband woke up with a broken hand. Neither had any memory of what happened. In another incident, two brothers from Minnesota were vacationing with their parents when they awoke covered in mud to find their wallets and cellphones gone. Neither had any memory of what happened.
“In at least three cases, travelers reported that local hospitals, part of the Hospiten chain, appeared to be gouging them, demanding large sums of cash,” the Journal-Sentinel reported. “One man was told to take a cab to an ATM. The vacationers suspected Iberostar might be in cahoots with the medical company.”
It remained unclear, exactly, whether the motive for these incidents was extortion, assault or robbery, or who was perpetrating the alleged crimes.
Maureen Webster launched the site Mexicovacationawareness.com after her 22-year-old son Nolan died at a resort almost 10 years ago.
“Every time, every single time, something bad happens, [the Mexican resorts and authorities] blame the victim,” she told the Journal-Sentinel. “They say, ‘They were drunk, they were drunk, they were drunk.’”
Related from another site: Tourists to all-inclusive resorts in Mexico suspect they were given tainted alcohol
They told the Journal Sentinel they believe they were drugged or the alcohol may have been tainted. They questioned how they could fall into a stupor so quickly. And whether they had been targeted.
Was it robbery? In one case, two teenage brothers from Minnesota on vacation with their parents woke up covered in mud, with no shirts or shoes and their wallets and cellphones missing. They had gotten separated during the night. One had a severe rash all over his legs. Neither could remember what happened.
What about that hospital mentioned in the articles?
Extortion? In at least three cases, travelers reported that local hospitals, part of the Hospiten chain, appeared to be gouging them, demanding large sums of cash. One man was told to take a cab to an ATM. The vacationers suspected Iberostar might be in cahoots with the medical company. The resort contracts with Hospiten and refers sick and injured guests to Hospiten's facilities. Abbey Conner's family paid about $17,000 to a small medical clinic south of Playa del Carmen and within several hours paid tens of thousands more to a hospital in Cancun, north of the resort, where Abbey and her brother were transferred.
Hospiten Riviera Maya is a small medical center about 14 miles away. It’s not the biggest emergency care center in Playa del Carmen. Nor is it the closest to Iberostar’s cluster of resorts on the northern stretch of the beach, which includes Paraiso del Mar.In one case, a husband and wife celebrating 13 years of marriage were sitting on the beach at Iberostar Paraiso Maya, in the same cluster of resorts where the del Mar is, in January 2015. The woman said she ordered two mojitos from the bar. Her husband had three beers.Poor police investigating (or none at all) along with my question of why didn't anyone hear or see the ambulance arrive? - Another snippet from the Journal's story...
They were talking to a couple who said they were from Oregon. They all ordered another drink and within a few minutes she began seeing black spots and told her husband something wasn’t right. Then she blacked out. She remembers being on the bathroom floor, vomiting and feeling like she was dying.
The next thing either of them recalls is waking up in their hotel room, more than five hours later. Her husband’s hand was broken. Neither had any idea what happened. Their belongings were still on the beach. They had not been robbed.
“I felt as if I had just been terrorized but did not know how and by who,” she wrote in her posting on the website, mexicovacationawareness.com. “I knew we came close to something evil, we were grateful to be alive, but filled with fear not knowing who did this to us.”
She said when they reported the incident to the resort staff, they were told to go to the hospital and to take cash.
When Abbey and Austin’s stepdad, John, and Austin hired a translator and went to file a police report a few days later, they say the police resisted launching an investigation, insisting it was an accidental drowning. How could they say that without at least interviewing the hotel staff who found them, the family wondered.
When they left the police department they weren’t certain whether any investigation would be done.
Within weeks, the McGowans hired an American law firm with a sister office in Mexico to help get answers. On Monday, they received their attorney’s report.
It raises even more questions.
On May 30, an attorney in Mexico inquired at the police department and found they had done a limited investigation. Police had interviewed three hotel staffers. The attorney’s report doesn’t say when the interviews took place.
The McGowans' American attorney, Florentino Ramirez, said he puts little credence in the police report.
"It's all too convenient," he said. "If it was an accident, where was everybody? It just doesn't make sense. There are too many open ends."
The police report did not contain any statements from hotel guests, the bartender or a woman who reportedly alerted hotel staff after seeing Abbey and Austin having trouble getting out of the pool. It does not contain key details from the medical clinic that received Abbey and Austin by ambulance.
The statements from the three staffers — the pool manager and two security guards — all indicate they arrived on the scene, pulled the kids from the water and performed CPR on Abbey. She was unconscious with a low pulse and spitting up foam from her nose and mouth as they tried to revive her, they all said.
Austin was going under and began moving and spitting up water as they pulled him out, they said.
Abbey “was seen” drunk at 7:03 sitting on the edge of the pool, they said, where the water was less than 4-feet deep. The report does not say who actually saw the brother and sister. It also notes security guards were nearby, 20 to 30 seconds away.
This doesn’t make sense to the McGowans for a number of reasons.
They were in the lobby at 7. If two people were being transported by ambulance, wouldn’t there be some commotion? Then again, maybe there was a back route out.
What about video surveillance? Is it true the hotel doesn’t have or use video cameras around the pool, as resort officials told John? Why won’t the resort help them get answers, let them interview the bartender and other guests?
What’s especially upsetting to the family is that Iberostar not only won’t answer their questions, nobody from the hotel ever reached out to say they’re sorry about the family’s loss.
UPDATE: Today in the news there is an update about illicit alcohol being seized from this resort as well as others:
Authorities suspended operations at two popular tourist spots, including the lobby bar at Playa del Carmen's Iberostar Paraiso Resort, where Abbey Conner, a 20-year-old from Wisconsin, drowned after consuming alcohol. Click here for the update.