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Apology not end of saga

Family expects more from Peace Corps

POSTED: February 4, 2011 9:30 a.m.
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Puzey

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The mother of a Peace Corps volunteer slain in 2009 said she thinks the agency's recent apology may not be its last.

"I kind of get the feeling that maybe there's going to be a more honest, more responsible apology down the line, but right now they felt like they needed to say something," said Lois Puzey of Forsyth County.

Puzey's daughter, Catherine "Kate" Puzey, was killed in the west African nation of Benin, where she lived and taught English for the organization. She was 24.

Three suspects accused in connection with her murder have been in jail since shortly after her death.

Lois Puzey said she and her husband, Harry, appreciate the Peace Corps' gesture, but suspect another apology may be forthcoming once their daughter's case has gone to trial.

"We accept that for what it is and with the understanding that it took an operation like '20/20' to get involved to pay attention to us."

Since their daughter's death, the couple has fought for answers from the Peace Corps and taken their quest to Washington, D.C.

Their story, as well as those of others who have been sexually assaulted while volunteering with the organization, was featured in a recent episode of ABC's "20/20" TV program.

In a statement on the organization's Web site, Peace Corps Director Aaron S. Williams admonished ABC for inaccurately portraying the support the Peace Corps provides its volunteers.

Also on the site is another letter that includes an apology from Williams to Puzey's family "if either the former leadership or the agency under my direction could have been more compassionate."

"Personally, it is heartbreaking to learn that they ever felt abandoned by the Peace Corps," Williams wrote. "This has never been our intent."

Lois Puzey said she thinks evidence presented in the trial will show that the organization had some responsibility for her daughter's death.

Kate Puzey's body was found March 12, 2009, outside her home in the village of Badjoude. She had reportedly died the night before.

Colleagues and other students seeking her help had told her that another co-teacher, who was a contract employee of the Peace Corps and from Benin, was sexually abusing some of the female students at the school.

She tried to report the abuse anonymously in an e-mail to Peace Corps officials, but was found out.

Her murder happened within days of her reporting the other teacher.

Lois Puzey said after her family interviewed with "20/20" in October, they got a good response from the organization.

Carrie Hessler-Radelet, deputy director and former Peace Corps volunteer, visited the family and heard them out.

"She was the first compassionate face we'd seen in headquarters of the Peace Corps," said Puzey, noting that she had previously felt the organization wasn't being straight forward about the case.

"She really got it and after that there have been some things that have come forward that have really been good."

Puzey said the Peace Corps has continued communicating with her about the case.

According to Williams' statements, the organization has "made significant improvements over the past two years in providing support to sexual assault victims and we look forward to working with Congress to further strengthen the Peace Corps and advance our mission of world peace and friendship."

U.S. Sen. Johny Isakson is working on legislation for whistle-blower protection for volunteers.

Puzey, who said her family sees her daughter as a hero, is grateful the Peace Corps is making efforts to improve.

"We felt like we've been her voice as much as we could," she said.

 

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