Mystery in paradise: Suspicious deaths in Dominican resorts lead American travelers to cancel their trips

Awilda montes recounts her trip to in the Dominican Republic at the resort Playa Nueva Romana where she believes that she was poisoned and where three people recently were killed at the resort in Brooklyn on Friday, June 7, 2019.
(Byron Smith For New York Daily Nes)

Melissa Burriesci and her husband had “an amazing trip” to the Dominican Republic when they visited the country last fall to celebrate his 40th birthday.

The couple from Long Island recently booked another vacation to the Caribbean country for July — this time with their three children — but the news of five American tourists dying in mysterious circumstances in or around hotel resorts in that country in the past three months forced the couple to make a painful decision.

“Each day we woke up to another story in the news and ultimately decided to cancel our trip,” the Westbury woman told the Daily News.

Burriesci is not alone.


Anxious American tourists are monitoring the bizarre events out of the Dominican Republic and weighing whether to go forward with their plans or reroute their trips altogether. Meanwhile, travel agents, government officials and Dominican natives have sought to appease travelers, stressing that the island nation’s hotels and resorts are safe and the recent incidents were isolated tragedies.

“It is a terrible and unfortunate series of events,” said Gina Libretti-Costa, president and owner of G World Travel in Queens.

Her agency has been fielding calls from many travelers asking questions or requesting to rearrange their upcoming trips. “I had one family who opted to change their destination to avoid the Dominican Republic,” she said. “I also have a destination wedding where the bride and groom chose to change hotels in fear that some of their guests may be apprehensive.”

Miranda Schaupp-Werner
Miranda Schaupp-Werner, 41, collapsed and died at a resort in the Dominican Republic.


The most recent casualties took place in two different hotels in the same resort in La Romana. Miranda Schaupp-Werner, of Allentown, Pa., collapsed after taking a drink from a minibar on May 25 — the same day she checked into the hotel with her husband to celebrate their ninth wedding anniversary. Five days later, Maryland couple Edward Holmes and Cynthia Day were found dead in their hotel room.

Preliminary autopsy results released Thursday indicate that Schaupp-Werner, 41, died of a heart attack, according to the country’s attorney general’s office. Holmes, 63, and Day, 49, died of respiratory failure and pulmonary edema. Both had internal bleeding and fluid in their lungs.

But the official causes of their deaths will only be determined after further testing, Dominican authorities said.

The bodies of Cynthia Day, 49, of Upper Marlboro, and her fiancé Nathaniel Holmes, 63, were found Thursday in their room at the Bahia Principe hotel at the resort Playa Nueva Romana, in the Dominican Republic.

Another American couple died in a strange car crash on the island just two months ago. Authorities said Orlando Moore and Portia Ravenelle, of Mount Vernon, N.Y., were supposed to return to the U.S. on March 27 after a four-day trip, but their car plunged into the ocean as they headed to the airport. Moore’s body was recovered in the ocean while Ravanelle was found near the scene. She died in a hospital days later and the case is still under investigation.

In addition to the deaths, a Delaware woman is making headlines after claiming she was brutally attacked near a Punta Cana resort. Tammy Lawrence-Daley wrote a viral Facebook post last month, featuring graphic images of her injuries, describing how a man assaulted her and left her for dead in a crawl space near the Majestic Elegance Punta Cana back in January.

Authorities have raised doubts about her account and the hotel said this week she unsuccessfully demanded a $2.2 million “compensation agreement” before going public with her story months later.

A Brooklyn woman also detailed how her trip to paradise turned into hell.


Awilda Montes, 43, told The News Friday that she started vomiting blood after drinking a tainted soda from the minibar in her room at the Luxury Bahia Principe Bouganville, the place where Schaupp-Werner died. The strange incident left Montes with chemical burns in her mouth.

Amanda Alcantára, a Dominican-American journalist, said the recent incidents seem like “one-off cases.”

“At the end of the day, tourists in the Dominican Republic are very safe, even more than locals,” she said, adding that the hotels “almost separate” you from what happens outside.

The Caribbean nation is a top destination for weddings, honeymoons, family vacations and spring breaks.

Tourism Minister Francisco Garcia said in a news conference Thursday that more than 30 million tourists have visited the country in the past five years and that this is “the first time” a suspicious death has caused so much international outcry. He also described the recent incidents as “isolated” and “unprecedented.”

Last year, 13 U.S. citizens died in the Dominican Republic, according to data from the State Department. The causes include homicides, drownings and accidents.

The number is on par with recent years — 17 deaths in 2017 and 18 in 2016. Since 2003, the earliest full year for which data is available, the highest number of reported U.S. citizen deaths in that country was 32 in 2009 while the lowest was five in 2006.


Libretti-Costa said at least one of the resorts involved in the recent incidents has a strict security system, which she saw herself when she stayed there several years ago.

“I recall them stopping each and every car from entering the property any further to get identification from cab drivers, check the license plate of the car, as well as check on the status of my reservation,” she said.

But Libretti-Costa said Punta Cana, a picturesque town on the eastern side of the country, is an especially safe and more popular destination, thanks to its “thriving” tourism attractions.

Placido Rodriguez, owner of Manhattan-based Quisqueya Tours, said it would be unfortunate if the recent events had a negative impact on the country’s booming tourism industry.

“This should not be an issue that creates a lot of panic,” he said. “I still consider the Dominican Republic a safe place. We should not create an alarming situation.”

Rodriguez, who’s Dominican, said he has clients who visit the island every year after they go for the first time. He said he has been fielding calls from customers asking questions about the country, but most people who have booked trips with him have kept their reservations.

Another agency, Liberty Travel, has also received calls from customers “with questions and concerns surrounding travel to the Dominican Republic,” a company spokeswoman said.

Alcantára, who’s the digital media editor at Futuro Media, based in Harlem, urged tourists to be aware of their surroundings.

“The Dominican Republic is a developing country and there’s going to be poverty and crime just like any other developing country,” said “It is paradise but it doesn’t mean you can just let (your guard down).”