The Murder Of Kate Puzey (Benin 2007-09) One Year Ago

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Kate Puzey in Benin

A article today in the Forsyth County News in Georgia written by Julie Arrington talks about the family of Kate Puzey who was killed in March a year ago in Badjoude, Benin. Her mother, Lois Puzey, says that Kate discovered a co-teacher — not a Peace Corps Volunteer — was sexually abusing some of the female students at the school where they worked.

“Co-teachers and other students were upset and they came to Kate to try to get some help, to contact someone and try to get him out of the school,” Mrs. Puzey told the reporter. “She [Kate] tried to do that anonymously and unfortunately the anonymity was broken.”

Puzey said her daughter’s murder happened within days of her reporting the other teacher.

Kate Puzey’s body was found March 12, 2009. She reportedly died the night before.

A video about her has been posted online and Peace Corps Volunteers have put up a Facebook page in Puzey’s honor. The page encourages others to participate in a day of service in her memory.

Three people, including the suspect and his brother, were arrested a short time later. They have remained in jail since.

“We feel like she was a hero and we wanted people to know that,” Puzey said. “She was an amazingly courageous and compassionate person who stood up for those that couldn’t protect themselves.”

The case was originally set for trial in Benin last fall, but has been postponed until November.

Puzey said the Peace Corps was initially helpful and supportive. Eventually, she and her family weren’t getting the answers they needed.

She, along with members of a small advocacy group formed on her daughter’s behalf, went to Washington, D.C. a couple of weeks ago to get those answers from Peace Corps officials.

“That was a very positive and productive meeting in the end,” she said. “We also spoke to congressmen and senators that we felt could help us find out what we needed.”

Senator Johnny Isakson came to Kate’s funeral and has been very supportive of the family.

Kate Puzey joined the Peace Corps in July 2007. She was scheduled to return home last summer.

13 Comments

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  • PC is usually helpful in the beginning. They want the family to say that it’s a privacy issue to backup their privacy policy at PC. So, when you query about the death, the just say they’re in mourning. Then they have nothing to say. So, by the time you think they’d tell everyone what happened, the basic facts, they won’t. So, you file an FOIA and it’s denied, appealed, and denied under judicial review. It’s a privacy issue and the family said it was too.

    We never found out what happened. The State Department employee said it was women’s issues like circumcision. Others said it was PC staff, security that had something about her. Other’s said it’s terror, which makes the most sense.

    The Puzey murder and other deaths show incompetence. If you ask them for a police report, there is none. If you ask them for field reports from PC employees, there are none. They follow up these with a statement in the CBJ. It’s all handled.

    Supposedly there was a riot at the trial.

    PC uses the family after a few years saying it’s their fault requesting privacy and that’s why there is no information. FOIA denies it all anyway. They might admit incompetence by field workers, but that’s about it. Bottom line is that by they time the information is out, it’s too late to take action. The day she was murdered every PC worldwide was threatened. If those were PC staff it was worse.

    The family has now made some statements, but it’s really too late and that’s okay because they have to make statements. PC will just say it’s RPCVs. So, we’ll file more FOIAs and try to get answers. RPCVs have a lot of those with some basic facts. You would be surprised how fast they can figure something out having lived there.

    The information is vague. She was trying to anonymously fire who? She was anonymously dealing with who? Was it PC? PC leaks names and addresses all the time. Did they check emails to see if her name and address was sent out by PC to some org? Where these PC employees with access to the PC computer? If it was the police, what police? A regular policeman might say she’s trying to get some guy fired and has witnessed nothing but rumor. Was the brother family to the person she wanted fired? Was anyone PC staff?

    There are more questions because we have no answers. We may never get those. So, like the PC who was ‘accidentally shot’ in the campo and bled to death, we may have no facts, but, if you’ve been in country that is a classic don’t. I was told that if they mention guns and the campo they plan on shooting you and they’re not joking. Same with the Philippines. So, maybe we should all join up and share what we have here and get those answers that everyone knows we have to have.

  • I believe that transition time between administrations is the most dangerous time for Peace Corps Volunteers. It is a belief because the published statistics are so broadly calculated that it is impossible to draw any conclusions. I believe this is because key staff members are gone or preoccupied with finding new jobs, regular staff may be wary about the new political appointees. I believe this impacts the ability of the field staff to get information. It may also be that incountry, HCNs may withdraw with a “wait and see” attitude about the new administration and be less helpful. However, four tragic situations occurred during this transition time.

    1) Richard Starr, PCV in Colombia, was kidnapped in February 1977, a few weeks after Democratic President Carter’s inaguaration, after eight years of Republican administration. Sam Brown was the new head of ACTION (of which Peace Corps was the overseas opeations division) and he had no foreign service experience. Dellenbach (sp?) was still the Director of Peace Corps, but it was up to Brown on how to proceed.

    2) The PCV who was responsible for PCV Deborah Gardner’s death was sent home in the closing days of the Ford administration. He was supposed to be detained in the US, instead he simply walked away from the Peace Corps office.

    3) Walter Provider went missing in December of 2000 in Bolivia, during the transition from the Clinton to the Bush administration.

    4) Now, the tragedy of Kate Puzey. All political appointees resigned, including the PC Director, in January of 2009. The tragedy of Puzey happened in March. The new PC Director was not appointed until August of 2009.

  • The murderer of Deborah Gardner was convicted in the host country and they were assured he would be put in prison in the USA, since they did not have adequate facilities, and low and behold the US had no jurisdiction, so he was hired by the federal government and I’m sure enjoys a lovely retirement.

  • If the family wants to know what happened, they are going about it the wrong way.

    What they should be doing is sending a FOIA Request to the U.S. Department of State and the FBI. The Regional Security Officer for the Embassy and FBI complete the crime scene collection of evidence and investigations involving the death of USG Employees overseas. Many times these investigators work with the host country government to assist in the prosecution of suspects.

    It sounds as if there is some confusion on the proper channels for the FOIA, for this family to find out what happened to their daughter. All American’s serving in the Peace Corps fall under the responsibility of the U.S. Embassy for the country they are serving in and ultimately under the umbrella of the U.S Department of State.

    All FOIA requests should be sent to both DOS and FBI for an incident / investigation that occurs overseas involving an American Government Employee or Peace Corps Volunteer.

    Sending a FOIA to Peace Corps will get the family nothing, as Peace Corps doesn’t have these records and they can’t release information concerning a criminal investigation. Its as simple as that. Good luck.

  • During the 20/20 interview, the spokeswoman looked like the go between for some incredibly dirty politician. Why didn’t she just apologize and show some feeling instead of bumbling and mumbling and deflecting responsibility. THIS IS THE PEACE CORP! It would have been much more forgiving if she would have stopped all the “professional” blocking and just admitted that the Peace Corp probably fucked up and will be doing some major internal work.

    I no longer respect the PEACE CORP, and will be sharing this story and the stories of the other women who were gang raped and attacked and ridiculed by PC and never given proper attention.

  • Peace corps is a total failure and unsafe for volunteers. Can you imaging putting their volunteers in danger, having them live in a community like that without guards. I will never advise anybody I know to join their BS program. This program should be dismantle period.

  • I was a Peace Corps teacher in Ghana, 1976 to 1978, and I felt as safe as a member of the community that welcomed me there than I have ever felt in the US. Yes, I was responsible for my own safety–Peace Corps staffers were at least a day away–but that is the whole idea of Peace Corps: You live as the people you serve live, and you take the same risks they take in their everyday lives. People who think they have a right to “safety” should not join Peace Corps. Not because it’s unsafe, but because their attitude of being owed something won’t serve them well overseas. They may become a victim because they will feel victimized, while a Peace Corps volunteer takes everything in stride and handles challenges as they come, with understanding and adaptation, looking forward to the next challenge.

  • The comment by “Thoreau” was unfortunate (OK, I was going to say idiotic but I thought I would be diplomatic, in keeping with PC tradition). First of all, it is reasonable to assume that this PC is male, and under some illusion that he, and every PCV, including those of the opposite gender, should have an idyllic Walden like adventure overseas. Get real! Second, just because this guy “felt safe” is irrelevant: Kate felt safe, but did she know crime data for the country and previous incidents with PCVs, etc.? Third, a PCV is not totally responsible for his/her own safety, since the greater responsibility is with the PC, as it should be. Most PCVs are kids just out of college who have led relatively sheltered lives. Third, PCVs do not live exactly as the locals live and to suggest that is the height of naivete, as is the claim that we take the same risks as the locals do. The PCV can never totally assimilate into the community, nor should he/she try to, and he/she never can appreciate the total cultural dynamics and risks that a local person will. Finally, the PC has a legal and moral duty and responsibility to adequately inform, train, and support the volunteers on all matters relating to their safety. That is the issue, not the pious and silly warbling about how PCVs take everything in stride”, etc. I should note that I was a PCV in Korea from 1966-8.

  • Yeah, you should take being murdered in stride. It was the volunteer’s fault for having a sense of entitlement (where did you get the idea she did?) Give me a break!

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