Federal legislation named for a local Peace Corps volunteer slain in west Africa has been sent to President Barack Obama.
The Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act unanimously cleared the U.S. House on Tuesday. The U.S. Senate approved it in September.
The bill is named for 24-year-old Catherine "Kate" Puzey who was murdered in 2009 while she lived and taught English for the Peace Corps in Benin.
Since their daughter’s death, Lois and Harry Puzey of Forsyth County have fought for answers from the Peace Corps and taken their quest to Washington, D.C. The organization issued an apology to the family in February.
Lois Puzey said this week’s development stirs mixed feelings. It reminds the family of their loss, but pays homage to their daughter as well.
"We felt like she was trying to make a difference in life, but also in death she has made a really positive change," Puzey said. "She’d be amazed. She’d be really amazed."
Puzey added that knowing the act will make a difference in the lives of future volunteers is healing for her family and helps provide closure.
Kate Puzey’s body was found March 12, 2009, outside her home in the village of Badjoude. She had reportedly died the night before.
Her death happened within days of her reporting that another teacher had been sexually abusing some of the female students at the school. She had tried to report the tip anonymously.
Three suspects accused in her murder have been in custody for more than two years.
The act provides whistleblower protection for the organization’s volunteers, which is currently a safeguard for federal employees but has not been available for volunteers for the Peace Corps.
In addition, the legislation requires the organization to develop sexual assault risk-reduction and response training and protocol. The training is to be tailored to the countries where volunteers serve.
U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson and Barbara Boxer introduced the measure, which provides better security and protection for Peace Corps volunteers, in July.
In a statement, Isakson said he was pleased Congress approved the act.
"Kate was a remarkable young woman who unselfishly went to Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer and was tragically murdered while helping others," Isakson said.
"Through the [act], Kate’s life will be memorialized by this new law to provide added protections, victims’ rights and whistleblower status for Peace Corps volunteers. It is my sincere hope that this day might bring a small bit of comfort to the Puzey family."
Isakson got involved in the matter after reading about Puzey’s death and attending her funeral.
He met with the President Boni Yayi of Benin in June, urging the leader to allow the FBI to assist in Puzey’s murder investigation.
Isakson also hand-delivered a letter to Yayi from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, reiterating the importance of the case.
Isakson and Yayi met again in July in Washington.
Boxer said in a statement that the legislation will help ensure Peace Corps volunteers serving overseas "will have the protection they deserve."
"I look forward to the president signing this bill into law to help make sure that no family will ever again suffer as Kate Puzey’s did," she said.