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August 07, 2012 | 05:42 PMIt's a mystery.
It's an international story.
To those who knew Kari Bowerman, it's a tragedy.
Kari was a 2003 graduate of Badger High School, who was "honest, trustworthy, caring and compassionate," according to her friend Francesca York, who graduated a year later.
But to most of the world she'll be remembered for how her life ended, not how she lived it.
Karin Joy Bowerman, 27 — known as Kari by her friends — died last week in a Vietnam hospital.
Two days later, her traveling companion, also died. The circumstances of their deaths are still unknown.
Making the deaths even more mysterious is that they are the eerily similar to other deaths in the region.
Two Canadian sisters died in June and two other women in 2009.
In an e-mail exchange with the Regional News, Francesca recalls Kari as "the older sister I never had" and an adventurous sort.
"Kari wanted to explore her options and live life to the fullest," Fransesca said.
And so she did. After graduating from Winona State University in 2008, Kari began teaching in Korea, where she's lived the last couple years.
"I think she wanted to see what the rest of the world had to offer her," Fransesca said. "Kari loved teaching in Korea and without a doubt loved every one of her students. They called her Karin Teacher."
The circumstances of her death, the contradictory media reports and the strange comparisons to previous deaths, are the stuff of a B-movie.
What is known for sure is that Kari was traveling with a Canadian, 26-year-old Cathy Huynh. The two taught together. They shared a room in an area of Nha Trang city, which was popular with backpackers.
According to one report, both Cathy and Kari were admitted to Khanh Hoa Army and People's Hospital at around 7 p.m. on Monday, July 30.
Cathy, who was of Korean decent and spoke Vietnamese, told doctors they had been vomiting since the afternoon, the report said.
A doctor determined that Kari was in more serious condition than Cathy having vomited as many as 15 times.
Around 10 minutes later, the report said, Kari was transferred to another hospital with respiratory failure, a fast heartbeat and no blood pressure and pulse.
She was pronounced dead 10:40 p.m. the same day.
Meanwhile, Cathy had been discharged at 9:30 p.m. and returned to the hotel.
The hotel owner reported that Cathy had said she was OK.
But by the morning of Aug. 1, Cathy reported she felt tired. She was offered porridge but she refused, the hotel owner said.
At noon, Cathy took a taxi to the hospital and appeared dizzy when she was admitted, the reports said.
Her condition worsened and she died early the next day.
A doctor, who wasn't named, reportedly said Cathy died "from drinking too much wine." That was later discounted by another doctor.
According to another news account, they both had "a mysterious illness" which resulted in respiratory failure. Yet another report said "poisoning" was suspected.
Deepening the mystery is a comment from an employee at morgue where Cathy's body was taken, who reported that she had been sent there without clothes on, with just a piece of fabric pulled over her.
Cathy's mother is skeptical of the whole situation.
"She died because she did not receive proper medical care," her mother was quoted as saying.
Apparently the death of women traveling companions is nothing new to the area.
In June, two sisters were found dead in their hotel room on the Thai resort island of Phi Phi. The pair was discovered with blue toenails and blood-tinged faces inside a room covered with vomit.
Those deaths were strangely similar to a 2009 case on the same resort island when two women were found poisoned in their adjoining rooms. There also were signs of vomiting in that case.
Kari's family is also concerned about the circumstances of Kari's death, Francesca said. At first they were going to have her cremated to save on expenses. But after finding out about the other deaths, the family wanted an autopsy to done in the United States "just in case something was covered up overseas,"
By then it was too late and cremation had been completed.
Supposedly, a "preliminary autopsy" was done but there are not reports on what it found.
"Kari was an amazing person," Francesca said. "She could always put a smile on your face, especially when you were having a bad day."
At Badger, Kari was involved in cheerleading, softball, tennis and soccer as well as Destination Imagination, an extra-curricular program that stresses creativity.
Kari's sisters are dealing with the U.S. consulate or embassy over in Vietnam.
"I think it is very difficult for them," Fransesca said. "There is definitively a time difference and language barrier. It also doesn't help that they don't have definite answers about her death. It definitely was a complete shock, because Kari is definitely responsible and very smart. The situation seems very eerie.
"They have to rely on authorities thousands of miles away and that is very difficult. It is definitely overwhelming for them," she said. "I can completely understand, because they just want to know what happened so they can let go knowing they did everything they could to find out what went wrong or why this happened."
Karin's grandmother was quoted on a Texas TV station as saying:
"It's just so hard to believe she's gone. I can't believe it. I just kept saying, 'No, no, no, it can't be. There must be a mistake.' But there isn't, I guess."
A link has have been established to raise money for returning Kari's remains and to help pay for funeral expenses: