A fifth American has died while vacationing in the Dominican Republic this year amid a series of mystery illnesses reported by visitors.
Leyla Cox, 53, died Monday while celebrating her birthday at the Excellence resort in Punta Cana, her son, William Cox, told the Staten Island Advance on Friday. He added that he was told his mother died of a heart attack, but the family has grown suspicious due to the number of deaths and illnesses that have been reported in the country.
“I am overwhelmed and confused and in shock,” he said.
The State Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, also reportedly confirmed the death Friday. The series of deaths also prompted the US Embassy to issue a statement this week addressing troubling pattern, which also includes stories of visitors becoming severely ill.
“The safety and security of US citizens that live in, work in, and visit the Dominican Republic remains our highest priority,” Ambassador Robin Bernstein said in a statement Tuesday. “These incidents are tragic and we offer our deepest condolences to those personally impacted.”
Punta Cana is also where another family said a relative died while vacationing in January at the Dreams Resort.
Kellie Brown told WKYC in Ohio her father, Jerry Curran, died Jan. 25, three days after arriving at the resort.
The cause of death, she said, was listed as pulmonary edema, or the accumulation of fluid in the lungs.
Jorge Puente, general manager for the Dreams Resort, said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News that staff there were saddened by Curran's passing, but added, "We have no evidence that this unfortunate incident was the result of anything other than natural causes."
"Of the 30 million tourists who visited the country in the past five years, the reported cases of death total far less than one percent," he said. "While any death is unfortunate, the Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Tourism notes that there is no statistical threat to the safety of tourists in the country."
"A couple also died of respiratory failure and fluid accumulation in the lungs in May while staying at the Grand Bahia Principe Hotel La Romana on the Caribbean island.
Edward Nathaniel Holmes, 63, and Cynthia Ann Day, 49, were found dead in their room after the Maryland couple missed the scheduled check-out time May 30.
“There were no signs of violence,” the resort said in a statement. “We immediately contacted the local authorities and have been collaborating completely with them throughout the investigation.”
Five days earlier, Miranda Schaup-Werner, 41, was found dead at the neighboring Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville resort, where she was celebrating her nine-year anniversary with her husband.
In a statement earlier this week, the US Embassy in the Dominican Republic said the FBI was providing assistance to local authorities with toxicology tests in the deaths of Holmes, Day, and Schaup-Werner.
According to a statement released by the resort, Schaup-Werner was found unresponsive the same day she arrived at the hotel. Her cause of death was determined to be a heart attack, and her husband, the resort stated, had confirmed that she had a history of heart conditions.
In its statement, resort company Bahia Principe stressed that the deaths occurred in different hotels and that, to date, “there are no indications of any correlation between these two unfortunate incidents.”
But visitors have told BuzzFeed News they became ill at Bahia Principe resorts, citing severe nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, body aches, fever, fatigue, chills, cold sweats, and rashes on their bodies.
One couple said they fell sick for days and remember “the food all tasted off.” They also said that at one point they believed the air conditioner in their room might have played a role because it smelled “strange.”
In a statement June 7, Bahia Principe said it had “suffered great damage to its image and reputation” because of “misinformation that has been published” after the deaths.
“The safety and comfort of our guests and staff stand at the center of our company values, and we work daily to ensure it,” the company said.
This story was updated with comment from Jorge Puente, general manager for the Dreams Resort.