[Thanks to Joanne Roll for her 'heads up' on this item from ABC News]
Congressional leaders are calling on U.S. government officials to be more active in solving the case of Kate Puzey, the Peace Corps volunteer who was brutally murdered in the West African country of Benin five years ago.
Today, in a show of bi-partisan support, 184 members of Congress signed a letter requesting the government “make every effort to devote every resource to achieve justice for Kate Puzey.”
Puzey was a 24-year-old from Georgia who was killed on March 12, 2009 after she claimed a local Peace Corps employee was sexually abusing girls at the school where she taught.
“It continues the visibility of the case in the eyes of the people that need not to lose sight of the tragedy,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-GA, a co-author of the letter and advocate for the Puzey family.
The letter was sent to the Department of State, the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Inspector General of the Peace Corps. It asked that “a comprehensive plan” on how to revolve Puzey’s murder be developed.
The letter, initiated by Senators Isakson and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., along with Representatives Ted Poe, R-Texas, and Sam Far, D-Calif., request a team of investigators be sent to more actively assist the Benin government in solving the murder including a “re-investigation team.”
“We want all hands on deck,” said Isakson.
Last week on the Senate floor, Isakson delivered a heartfelt speech remembering the life of the slain Peace Corps volunteer.
“I have taken this case on as a personal passion to see to it that justice and some closure come to the family of this wonderful young lady,” he said.
Isakson went on to praise U.S. officials leading the investigation and who have “…made it their top priority the investigation and the fulfillment to bring this case to a reality.”
According to Isakson, the Beninese government has renewed their commitment to finding Puzey’s killer after the investigation was stalled. The small West African nation has assigned a new investigative judge to the case and has welcomed help from the U.S. The Beninese Embassy has not returned requests for comment for this report.
“Our FBI has been helpful to them and the case is moving in the right decision,” said Isakson. “We have momentum, we have new facts and we have a renewed interest.”
While the FBI is involved in the case and is bringing technology, forensic methods and evidence gathering techniques to bear, the letter specifically requests “a Special Agent who has a record of successfully solving cold cases in Africa.”
The FBI has a cold case team that recently solved the 15-year murder case of Karen Phillips, a Peace Corps volunteer who served and was murdered in Gabon.
“That’s the kind of attention we want to make sure is applied to the Puzey case,” Isakson said.
Four people are being held in custody in connection with Kate Puzey’s murder. One of the suspects includes Constance Bio, the former local Peace Corps employee Kate identified as allegedly abusing her students. Kate sent an email to the Peace Corps office in Benin’s capital of Cotonou requesting Bio be fired. Another of the suspects is Bio’s brother, Jacques, who was a manager in the Cotonou office. Both men have claimed innocence in connection with the murder.
“A lot of good things are happening in the investigation,” acknowledged Kate’s mother Lois Puzey. “I’m more hopeful than ever things will come together and that a trial will be held and justice will come for Kate.”
In a statement to ABC News, the Peace Corps said that Kate Puzey “embodied everything a Peace Corps volunteer should be,” and that they are “committed to justice for Kate and peace for the Puzey family.”
The Puzey family, along with Isakson, recently returned from a visit in Benin to mark the fifth anniversary of Kate’s death. Over a thousand people attended a memorial ceremony in the small village of Badjoude where Kate lived and taught school. The Puzey family also met with President Boni T. Yayi, his Minister of Justice and other Beninese cabinet members.
“President Yayi seemed very sincere in his concern for the investigation and said they will do everything they could,” Lois Puzey said. The murder of Kate Puzey and the policies and procedures of the Peace Corps were brought to national attention after an in-depth ABC News 2020 Investigation.
In 2011, following the ABC News investigation, the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act was signed by President Obama. The legislation requires the Peace Corps to improve the training of volunteers to reduce sexual assault risk, would protect whistleblowers, and would require the Peace Corps to hire victims’ advocates for each region the agency serves.
The Puzey family, Isakson and many others continue to fight to ensure Peace Corps volunteers are safe and that Kate’s memory is kept alive.
“There’s never going to be happiness for us because Kate is gone,” said Lois Puzey. “But we’re hopeful there can be justice and some peace and resolution.”
“We’re not quitting until we get to the bottom of this,” Isakson said.