A shocking number of American tourists have died unexpectedly while on vacation in the Dominican Republic in the past year. The eerie similarities between these deaths have us asking a million questions: Are they connected? Was there foul play? Are they coincidental?
Here’s what we know about the tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic so far.
How many tourists have died in the Dominican Republic?
As of the time of this reporting, at least nine American tourists have reportedly died in similar, unexpected ways while traveling abroad in the Dominican Republic, a nation located on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, since June 2018.
Who were they?
On June 13, Joseph Allen, 55, was found dead at the Terra Linda Resort in the northern coastal city of Sosúa. The New Jersey man had told his friends he was not feeling well the day before hotel staff found him unresponsive in his room, Allen's sister Jaimie Reed told CNN. The U.S. State Department confirmed the death, but said it has no additional information. Preliminary autopsy results suggest he suffered from cardiac arrest.
On June 10, Leyla Cox, a 53-year-old woman visiting the country from Staten Island, NY, died in her hotel room, CNN reported. Cox had been staying at Excellence Punta Cana, and the hotel said forensics reports state that the cause of death was a heart attack. The woman's son, Will Cox, told CBS New York he doesn't believe his mother died from "natural causes." He said, "I truly believe if she was anywhere else in the world besides the Dominican Republic, she'd be alive right now. I just hope for some answers."
On May 30, a Baltimore couple, Edward Nathaniel Holmes, 63, and Cynthia Ann Day, 49, were both found dead in a room at the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana — the couple was meant to check out the day they were found. An early report from a local outlet stated that the couple’s bodies showed no signs of violence. Their causes of death have yet to be determined, but preliminary autopsy reports showed the couple’s bodies had internal bleeding and fluid in their lungs (pulmonary edema); Day had fluid in her brain; and Holmes had signs of a pre-existing condition (an enlarged heart and cirrhosis of the liver).
On May 25, Miranda Schaup-Werner, a 41-year-old from Pennsylvania, collapsed and died suddenly after having a drink from her room’s minibar — just five days before Holmes and Day were found dead, and in the same resort complex. The Dominican Republic’s attorney general said that according to preliminary autopsy reports, the American tourist died from a heart attack.
In July 2018, David Harrison, a 45-year-old from Maryland, died during his vacation to the Caribbean island country. According to an autopsy report, Harrison died from a heart attack and pulmonary edema — similar to Holmes, Day, and Schaup-Werner. His wife, Dawn McCoy, said she does not believe that it is a coincidence that so many other American tourists have died of heart attacks or pulmonary edema recently in the country.
In June 2018, a bride-to-be from Pennsylvania died from a heart attack during a trip to the Dominican Republic with her fiancé. Yvette Monique Sport, 51, had a drink from her hotel room’s minibar, took a shower, and got ready to “retire for the evening,” before she suddenly died, according to her sister. Given the similarities with the recent deaths of Holmes, Day, and Schaup-Werner, Sport’s sister told Fox 29 she is now questioning the cause of her sister's death. “There is something…dirty at the bottom of all of this,” she said. “She was 51 years of age, relatively healthy, no reason for her to go on vacation and just die so suddenly.”
Where in the Dominican Republic did the deaths occur?
The U.S. tourists who have been found dead in the Dominican Republic in the past year stayed at a few different resorts, most of which were located in the resort town Punta Cana. Two were at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana: Harrison, who died in July 2018, and Wallace, who died April 14. Four died at various Bahia Principe (a chain of resorts) locations: Schaup-Werner died at Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville resort on May 25; Holmes and Day died at Grand Bahia Principe La Romana on May 30; Sport died at a Bahia Principe hotel in Punta Cana in June 2018. Cox died at Excellence Punta Cana on June 10. Allen died at Terra Linda Resort in Sosúa on June 13. It is currently unclear where Corcoran was staying when he passed away in April.
A Colorado couple who stayed at Grand Bahia Principe La Romana last year is suing the hotel chain, alleging that pesticide chemicals on the resort's property made them extremely ill.
Because of increased scrutiny of its resorts, Bahia Principe released a statement on June 7: “We reiterate our firm commitment to collaborating completely with the authorities and hope for a prompt resolution of their inquiries and actions, and will not be making any further statements that may interfere with them.” The company stated that it has received negative backlash as a result of misinformation. The end of the statement took a more threatening tone: “We completely disagree with the dissemination of false information issued publicly which threatens the image and reputation of the company, and the integrity and rights of our employees and their families, reserving, where necessary, the right to take appropriate legal action.”
Are the Dominican Republic deaths connected?
While millions flock to the island for vacation each year, the similarities between these incidents — unexpected heart attacks, some with pulmonary edema and respiratory failure — have given some individuals reason to believe that the deaths are connected. The FBI is reportedly investigating the deaths of Schaup-Werner, Holmes, and Day, who all died within a five-day period in May at the Bahia Principe resort in La Romana.
The agency said further toxicology results on the three deceased tourists could take up to 30 days. "We ask everyone to be patient while these investigations run their course," a statement from the U.S. embassy in the Dominican Republic said.
Robin Bernstein, the U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic, said that the deaths were isolated incidents, according to Univision.
Family members of the dead have spoken out about their suspicions around the circumstances of their loved ones’ deaths. “It was, at first, a little confusing that there was such a strong parallel…it immediately caused serious concern for us,” a family spokesperson for Schaup-Werner, Jay McDonald, told Fox News, regarding the correlation between her and the Baltimore couple’s deaths. “That was beyond coincidence. They died five days after, and the cause was determined to be the same. This just puts this whole thing through the stratosphere — something is going on, and we want to know what it is.”
Were the Dominican Republic tourists poisoned?
Officials are investigating whether counterfeit booze poisoned the seven tourists, the New York Post reported. They want to know whether the alcohol some of the victims reportedly drank before their deaths had dangerous chemicals in it. The FBI will assist by taking blood samples from the deceased, law enforcement sources said.
Lawrence Kobilinsky, a forensic science professor, told the New York Post the symptoms of some of the victims, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, were consistent with methanol poisoning. Methanol is not safe for humans. "Adulterated alcohol is usually methanol added to alcohol or just plain methanol, which is very, very toxic," Kobilinsky said.
Is it safe to travel to the Dominican Republic?
Technically, yes. But the U.S. State Department wants you to take heed.
In April, the State Department issued a level-two travel advisory for tourists visiting the Dominican Republic, urging them to “exercise increased caution.” The agency warns that violent crimes, like homicide, sexual assault, and armed robbery, are concerns in the Caribbean nation, and suggests that resort areas like Punta Cana are generally safer than urban areas like Santo Domingo. “The wide availability of weapons, the use and trade of illicit drugs, and a weak criminal justice system contribute to the high level of criminality on the broader scale,” the advisory reads.
In January, a Delaware mom was severely assaulted while vacationing in the country. She was attacked at the Majestic Elegance resort in Punta Cana, where she was staying. This February, SmarterTravel wrote up some tips for staying safe in Punta Cana. "Avoid driving in Punta Cana if you can help it," the guide says. "The road conditions and traffic patterns can be dangerous and unpredictable, especially for drivers who are accustomed to navigating U.S. roads." In March, a couple from New York, Orlando Moore and Portia Ravenelle, crashed their car into the Caribbean, and subsequently died. They were driving to the airport from their resort at the end of their trip.
According to the New York Post, an increased number of tourists have self-reported that they have gotten violently ill while vacationing in the Dominican Republic. Reports of illnesses at Punta Cana have spiked since the recent news coverage. On June 14, Melissa Rycroft, known for her appearances on The Bachelor and Dancing with the Stars, revealed that since returning from a family trip to the island, she has been suffering from "severe cramping."