The Abbey Conner family celebrates their birthday
WAUKESHA, Wisconsin – It was her 22nd birthday. About 100 of his friends and family gathered at the Center Court Sports Complex on Saturday to play volleyball and party.
They wore T-shirts that said âSet for Abbey,â underscoring Abbey’s excellence as a setter.
Her mother and best friends showed off their tattoos, copies of the one Abbey received shortly after her 18th birthday: An Ocean Wave, symbolizing one of her favorite quotes: âSometimes in waves of change, we find our true direction.
The atmosphere was festive as they exchanged their favorite stories from the abbey. How Abbey was the first person they called when they needed to talk to someone. As she liked to shop, play board games and swim. And how she could always see the positive even in the most difficult situations.
But underneath all this talk there was a deep sadness. They looked down, sometimes biting their lip so as not to cry.
Abbey was not there. She didn’t live until 22 years old.
Abbey Conner drowned in a swimming pool at an upscale resort in Mexico in January 2017, when she was 20.
“There will be days when I sit at my desk and start crying,” said Abbey’s big brother Austin, who nearly drowned in the pool right next to Abbey.
The circumstances and questions surrounding her death – how she could drown and how Austin could pass out and almost drown at the same time, in waist-deep water, before dinner time, still didn’t. no Sens.
Eighteen months later, her family still has no answers.
Abbey and Austin were good swimmers, they had grown up on Lake Pewaukee. On vacation with their parents in Playa del Carmen, they’d been drinking tequila at the bar in the water for a few hours, but to the college kids, that didn’t seem like too much for Austin. And why did Abbey’s collarbone break? And why did Austin have a lump the size of a golf ball on his forehead and no memory?
Why didn’t the Mexican authorities question the bartenders and other patrons of the resort? What did the surveillance video show? Why hasn’t the US State Department done more to find out what really happened?
Abbey Conner’s death sparked an investigation of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel which uncovered nearly 200 traveler reports who say they passed out after drinking small or moderate amounts of alcohol at luxury resorts across Mexico. Many regained consciousness and discovered that they had been robbed, assaulted and, in some cases, taken to prison. All said they felt lucky to be alive.
Some travelers did not survive.
FULL COVERAGE: Survey of Mexican resorts
The Sentinel Journal received reports of three people who visited Mexico last month – one in Cozumel, one in Los Cabos and one in Cancun – and who passed out after a few drinks. Two fell violently ill. One of them woke up covered in bruises. One went to the hospital.
The woman with the bruises – from a small town south of Fort Worth, Texas – did not want her name published due to concerns over the public backlash. She privately informed Mexican authorities as well as the US State Department.
“I am writing this letter so as not to get my money back or harm the hotel in any way. I am writing this to protect travelers in the future,” she wrote in an email to Mexican and American authorities. “We never drank too much. I NEVER passed out and it was a very, very scary situation …” Mexico is absolutely my favorite place to visit. We go there twice a year most years. Been going there since May 2000. I will not be returning until this tainted alcohol problem is resolved. I don’t feel safe … “
“How many red flags does the State Department need to protect American citizens?” said Bill Conner, Abbey’s father. “What will it take for someone to stand up and stop this?” ”
The Office of the Inspector General is investigating how the State Department’s consular offices have handled cases of injury and death. A report is expected in the coming months.
State Department added warning about potentially tainted alcohol to its Mexico information page following Journal Sentinel reports, but the language is buried on the page. As the department has stepped up its travel warnings in parts of Mexico, it has kept major tourist areas at a warning level 2, suggesting travelers “exercise extra caution.” A level 3 invites travelers to âreconsiderâ their travel plans; level 4 warns âdo not travelâ.
Mexico as a whole, including tourist destinations, has seen a dramatic increase in violence over the past year. More than 130 politicians have been killed in the run-up to the July 1 general election. The total number of homicides jumped by more than 20% in 2017, topping 25,000, according to government figures released in June.
In some cases, tourists have been caught in the crossfire. A 27-year-old woman from San Francisco was shot and killed walking out of a popular taco restaurant in Mexico City last month with her husband as they celebrated their first wedding anniversary.
Other visitors have witnessed shootings at popular tourist beaches.
Media reports of growing violence and alcohol-related tragedies are having an impact on some travelers, based on airline data and interviews with travel agents.
Several airlines have already reduced the number of flights to resort areas in Mexico in recent months due to lower demand. Others plan to follow suit, they said on conference calls in July to discuss quarterly results with financial analysts.
A bipartisan call to action
The lack of adequate warning angered travelers and members of Congress – Republicans and Democrats.
we Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.)United States Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and United States Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) urged the State Department to put more pressure on Mexican authorities to tighten security and crack down onresort areas where American tourists have been injured or killed. Lawmakers also urged the department to do more to warn travelers of the potential dangers.
Baldwin drafted a provision that is included in the State Department’s 2019 budget requiring the State Department to report to the committee within 90 days the details surrounding the incidents and what the agency did in response.
In addition, Baldwin has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the business practices of TripAdvisor and other travel websites that promote and sell travel to Mexico. The Journal Sentinel investigation found that TripAdvisor had removed reports from tourists detailing their terrifying experiences, calling them “hearsay” or, in some cases, saying they were not “family friendly.”
Travel websites direct tourists to the State Department’s website for destination safety information.
Baldwin reiterated his concerns this week in a letter to FTC President Joseph Simons, saying she was concerned that “TripAdvisor’s underlying business model could facilitate practices that violate federal consumer protection laws.”
“I remain concerned that these entities, upon which Americans increasingly rely for accurate and impartial reporting regarding the safety and quality of destinations, accommodations and activities, may be engaged in practices that rather provide incomplete, inaccurate or misleading information, âBaldwin wrote in the August 6 Letter.
FTC regulators first promised in November and again at a confirmation hearing in February to look into the matter, but Baldwin’s staff said they had never heard anything in return.
“It is imperative that the Commission examine – and take appropriate action to stop, if necessary – any deceptive or unscrupulous business practice which directs, without disclosing possible dangers, American travelers to destinations which could put them at risk,” wrote Baldwin.
Abbey Conner’s family and friends want all vacationers to at least be aware of the risks.
Courtney Calder, Abbey’s roommate at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, remembers how excited Abbey was about her January 2017 vacation in Mexico.
Despite Abbey’s tendency to be easily scared – she would check under her bed and closet before going to sleep at night – she didn’t have to worry about relaxing in the sun and in the water with her family.
âShe searched my closet in November asking, ‘Can I take this? Can I take this? ‘ Calder said. âIt was in November. That’s how horny she was. She had been talking about it for months.
Calder described Abbey as someone who lived life to the fullest and encouraged others to do the same.
âSo that’s something I’m trying to do,â Calder said.
Natalie Olson first met Abbey through club volleyball when the two were juniors in high school.
âShe was the first friend of mine to make me feel like myself,â said Olson. “I met her and immediately thought she was someone I wanted in my life … We helped each other through difficult times.”
Olson said his life has changed in many ways thanks to Abbey.
âShe made me embrace life,â she said. “We could do nothing and this is the person I want to be with.”
Abbey was an animal lover and obsessed with Holly, the family’s goldendoodle. She took a life-size cup of Holly to college with her.
Besides being a great athlete, she gave the best hugs and always made friends and family feel loved.
She spent countless hours playing table tennis, tubing on the lake, and hanging out with her cousin, Charlie Sprinkman, who was nearing age. Often the two would get together and watch the Game Show Network.
âWe were almost like siblings,â Sprinkman said. “She was the first person I texted when I needed advice or wanted to say something to someoneâ¦ We were best friends.”