CUMMING – Eight years after a 24-year-old Forsyth County resident was murdered while volunteering for the Peace Corps in west Africa, the four men accused of killing her were set free.
A court in Benin acquitted all four men on Feb. 25 of the 2009 murder of Catherine “Kate” Puzey, who graduated from high school in Cumming and whose parents both worked for Forsyth County Schools.
“Kate made a tremendous impact on our world,” District 27 state Sen. Michael Williams said. “She served those who were truly in need. She entrusted her government to protect her and it did not.”
Puzey taught English for the Peace Corps in the west African nation and was killed a month after she reported that another teacher had been molesting students at the school where they taught.
She had tried to email the tip anonymously.
“Word of her involvement in naming the sexual predators was ultimately leaked,” Williams said.
Puzey’s mother, Lois Puzey, and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) attended the trial. Inhofe went in the place of Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson who could not attend due to a recent surgery.
“Senator Isakson has led the fight for justice for the Puzey family,” Williams said. “Justice that was ultimately denied in a short, two-day trial.”
While the acquittal may be a disappointment to her family, to Isakson and to those following her story, federal legislation now provides better security and protection for Peace Corps volunteers.
Isakson spent much of his career after Puzey’s death fighting for the legislation, which then-President Barack Obama signed into law in 2011 as The Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act.
“The legislation protects whistleblowers [and] victims of violence and sexual assault within the Peace Corps,” Williams said.
Lois Puzey, who taught for the school system from 2006 to 2010, and her husband, Harry, a former substitute teacher for the district who has since passed away from cancer, fought alongside Isakson since their daughter’s death for answers from the Peace Corps.
Their story was even featured in a re-election ad campaign for Isakson in 2016.
The Peace Corps issued a three-paragraph statement on the trial.
“Along with her family and friends, we continue to mourn the loss of Kate and we offer them our deepest sympathies during this difficult time,” the statement said. “Today and every day, we honor Kate, whose memory is never far from our minds as we continue to build a strong, more effective Peace Corps.”