Another U.S. citizen has died while traveling to the Dominic Republic, the U.S. State Department has confirmed to TIME. It is the most recent in a string of deaths that the FBI is assisting in investigating.
Leyla Cox, 53, was found dead in her hotel room on June 11 while staying at the Excellence Resort in Punta Cana.
“I am overwhelmed and confused and in shock,” William Cox, 25, Leyla’s son told the Staten Island Advance. “Her birthday was June 9 and she passed away on June 10.”
The announcement comes as more families come forward with stories of family members who died during a stay on the Caribbean island. The State Department confirmed that the FBI was providing technical assistance with the toxicology reports, but said said that investigations had not found any connections between the deaths of 41-year-old Miranda Schaup-Werner on May 25 and the May 30 deaths of Ann Day, 49 and Nathaniel Edward Holmes, 63––all of whom stayed at Bahia Principe Hotel and Resorts in San Pedro de Macorís.
On Sunday, the family of California native Robert Wallace, 67, told Fox News that he had died after visiting the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Resort in Punta Cana. His niece Chloe Arnold told Fox that on April 11, Wallace fell ill after having a Scotch from his hotel room’s mini bar. After being checked by a hotel doctor on April 13, Wallace was sent to the hospital where he died on April 14.
Arnold described her uncle as an avid traveler in good health. His obituary says he passed “unexpectedly while vacationing in the Dominican Republic.”
Arnold told Fox Dominican authorities have not yet confirmed her uncle’s cause of death.
“We have so many questions,” she said. “We don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”
When asked about Wallace’s death a State Department spokesperson confirmed to TIME that a U.S. citizen died in April in the Dominican Republic and offered the family their “sincerest condolences.”
Despite the tragic headlines, hotel officials and safety experts are cautioning travelers not to rush to conclusions. The connections, they say, are not immediately apparent and safety experts in particular say that the country is no more dangerous than it was before.
“It’s not an overly dangerous place,” former CIA agent and current Regional Security Director of International SOS Matthew Bradley tells TIME. “I would still consider the Dominican Republic a safe place to go.”
According to the State Department, last year 13 U.S. citizens died while traveling to the Dominican Republic. The number was 17 in 2017. More than 2.7 million U.S. tourists visited the island in 2017, making the island the fourth most popular travel destination for Americans.
But for those millions of travelers with trips booked, police and resort officials are asking the public to wait for conclusions from investigations before making assumptions — and denying there is anything nefarious at play.
High-profile incidents involving American tourists
In the last year there have been multiple high-profile cases involving American tourists dying or being seriously injured while staying in the Dominican Republic.
Schaup-Werner, who was from Pennsylvania, died after she was found unresponsive by hotel staff in her Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville resort hotel room. According to the hotel, which is located in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican authorities concluded she had suffered a heart attack. In a statement, Bahia Principe said her husband, who Schaup-Werner was traveling with, confirmed she had a history of heart conditions.
Five days later, Day and Holmes, a couple from Maryland, were both found unresponsive in their rooms by hotel staff the day they were scheduled to check out. Bahia Principe confirmed the couple was staying at the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana, which is less than a mile away from sister resort Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville where Schaup-Wener stayed. According to Bahia Principe, there were no signs of violence and the case of Holmes and Day is still under investigation and awaiting results of toxicology test.
“To date, there are no indications of any correlation between these two unfortunate incidents,” the hotel’s statement read. “We disapprove of any speculation and conjecture on the possible causes of death and urge all to respect the families while the investigation is ongoing.”
In response to the information that has been circulating in different media outlets— BahiaPrincipe (@BahiaPrincipe) June 5, 2019
regarding the two unfortunate events in the Dominican Republic, Bahia Principe
Hotels & Resorts would like to clarify the following: pic.twitter.com/Pg8QFmaq1L
Preliminary autopsy reports released by the Dominican district attorney confirmed that all three all three suffered respiratory failure and had fluid in their lungs.
According to the Dominican Minister of Tourism, the United States Embassy in Santo Domingo says results from the FBI’s toxicology analysis might take up to 30 days.
On June 7, a Colorado couple told CNN they are suing the resort the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana resort, where Day and Holmes stayed, after falling ill last June. Kaylynn Knull, 29, and her boyfriend Tom Schwander, 33, said they were forced to cut their trip short because they fell seriously ill during their stay at the resort. When the couple returned home, still feeling sick, a doctor told the couple they were likely exposed to organophosphates, a chemical typically found in pesticide.
“There’s something going on,” Knull told CNN. “What happened to us may be related to what happened to them.”
Hours after the story, Bahia Principe reiterated that they were cooperating with authorities and their investigation in a statement.
In regards to the information that has been spread by various media outlets and social media, we would like to express: https://t.co/fT2Qj8jR7K— BahiaPrincipe (@BahiaPrincipe) June 7, 2019
En respuesta a las informaciones que están siendo publicadas por diversos medios de comunicación y redes sociales, manifestamos: pic.twitter.com/BjjJd9mJdd
On May 29, Delaware resident Tammy Lawrence-Daley shared a lengthy post on Facebook where she described being assaulted at Majestic Elegance Resort in Punta Cana in January. She alleged in her post that a man dressed in a resort uniform viciously attacked her for hours. Majestic Resorts said in a statement that authorities are still unclear on what has happened and investigations have revealed “weak points” in Daley’s “strange and unusual” case. The hotel also claims that Daley only took her story publicly after a $2.2 million settlement was denied.
“Some media in the United States have reported on this story considering that this story is true and definitive, instead of waiting for a final resolution of the case that not only affects Majestic Resorts, but also tourism for the entire Dominican Republic.” the statement said.
“Majestic states that it continues to cooperate with the authorities in the resolution of this case until they can provide an official final declaration.” the resort added. Daley has yet to publicly respond to the resorts claims.
In April, the bodies of New York City couple Orlando Moore, 40, and Portia Ravenelle, 52, were found after being reported missing for weeks. Dominican authorities confirmed that the couple died in a car accident in Santo Domingo.
Ortiz, a 10-time All Star was ambushed on Sunday night while sitting outside a lounge bar in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic’s capital and largest city. Surveillance footage of the attack shows a motorist approaching Ortiz and opening fire, striking the retired baseball star and others in his group. Police have not determined a motive for the shooting. According to Associated Press, Dominican National Police are still investigating whether Ortiz was the intended target.
A crowd detained a suspect following the shooting. Eddy Feliz Garcia, 25, was treated for injuries, then taken into police custody.
Ortiz’ father, Leo, spoke to reporters outside of Clinica Abel Gonzalez hospital. He said his son was resting after surgery and the bullet did not hit any major organs.
Ortiz was born in the Dominican Republic, but became an American citizen in 2008.
Best news we’ve heard so far come from David Ortiz’s father, Leo Ortiz, who told reporters gathered at the clinic that David is currently resting after surgery and that no organs were affected by the bullet. He said the doctors anticipate full recovery. #BigPapi— Marly Rivera (@MarlyRiveraESPN) June 10, 2019
How safe is the Dominican Republic?
The U.S. State Department issued a level two (out of four) safety warning for the Dominican Republic in April 2019. The warning advises travelers exercise increased caution due to violent crime in the country, which include armed robbery, homicide and sexual assault. The State Department says that resort areas tend to be better policed and safer that urban areas for travelers.
Matthew Bradley, the Regional Security Director of International SOS, says there is likely a reasonable explanation for the spate of tourist deaths.
“It’s the mystery around the deaths that is driving the speculation,” he tells TIME. “American tourists pass away frequently around the world, several in a day, it’s not unusual. But it is unusual hearing about Americans passing away abroad without it being something like a terrorist attack. We usually don’t hear about tourists dying of heart attacks or in their sleep, but that happens everyday with tourist traveling abroad, it is nothing unique to the Dominican Republic.” He says prospective travelers who are concerned about the recent deaths, should make sure they have a plan for what to do if they get ill. Bradley suggests travelers should have the phone number for the best nearby hospitals and should check with their insurance providers to make sure they will be covered while traveling. He says travelers can ask hotels whether they offer on-site medical assistance. Travelers can also make arrangements to get immediate medical care back home if they have to leave unexpectedly.
“I don’t think people should distrust Dominican officials,” he adds. “They’re working with what they have. Like they said, 2 million Americans visit DR (Dominican Republic) every year and only a handful have died.” Bradley says he would advise anyone worried about traveling to the Dominican Republic to take the same precautions they would when going anywhere else.
“These incidents, while recent, in my mind don’t indicate Dominican Republic is any less safe than it was before,” Bradley says. “I would tell people to continue with trips.”
Considering the level two safety ranking from the State Department, Bradley advises travelers not to go anywhere alone, especially at night. And if you do wander on your own, Bradley says, let a companion know when you plan on returning so they can be aware something is amiss if you do not return. “Travel has risk,” Bradley says. “People should be aware before they travel where they are going and plan accordingly, if they do, they usually travel safely.”
Considering the three deaths of three were due to medical causes, Dr. Robert Quigley, Senior Vice President and Regional Medical Director of International SOS says travelers should take extra precaution with their health when away from home.
He advises travelers to visit a doctor prior to embarking on their trip, especially if they might have a chronic medical condition or cardiovascular disease. Quigley says sleep deprivation and stress can “exacerbate underlying, and sometimes asymptomatic, serious cardiovascular diseases.”
He also advised travelers to pack extra medication in case their trip is delayed.
Will tourism in the Dominican Republic be affected?
As the stories continue to emerge, some travelers have taken to social media to voice concerns about traveling to the Caribbean country. While officials at the Dominican Ministry of Tourism told TIME they were not able to elaborate on the situation because of the ongoing investigation, on Thursday, Francisco Javier García, the Minister of Tourism for Dominican Republic said that the investigations are not affecting the number of tourist visiting the country.
“These cases are very regrettable, but isolated.” he said at a press conference on Thursday. “Investigation into them is a top priority for us and for the National Police. We are asking them to deploy all resources to help provide answers as quickly as possible.”
He called the Dominican Republic a “tranquil, peaceful destination and the safest in the region,” and said tourists can “be assured that the authorities are working hard to clarify these incidents.”
Despite the reassurance, some travelers are saying the incidents have cast doubt on the safety of the country and are refusing to take a chance.
Majestic Elegance Resort: Carr. El Macao - Arena Gorda, Punta Cana 23000, Dominican Republic— Maria Gomez (@DoraGom43725330) June 2, 2019
Bahia Principe Hotel in La Romana: Carretera San Pedro Km 12, La Romana 32000, Dominican, 2 HIGH crimes in less than 5 days reported @ HOTELS in DR! I’m canceling my plan trip to DR🇩🇴!😲 pic.twitter.com/L9eKD8dv6V
Also, if you’re traveling to Dominican Republic, cancel your trip. So many deaths are happening to visitors. A NY couple went missing, they found them dead, another couple from Maryland just got found in their rooms dead and another woman was beaten nearly to death there too.— Beautifully Made. (@briccianaxo) June 2, 2019