ND alumnus remains missing in Bolivia
Senior Staff Writer
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has joined the search for Walter Poirier, a 2000 Notre Dame graduate who was declared missing in Bolivia on March 5.
Four FBI agents and a detective from the Miami Police Department will assist in efforts to find Poirier, a 22-year-old Peace Corps volunteer last seen Feb. 22. The U.S. Embassy in Bolivia has been leading the search thus far, with help from the Bolivian government and the Peace Corps.
The FBI announced it would join the effort last week, after Poirier's congressman Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) and Massachusetts senators Ted Kennedy and John Kerry wrote a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft calling the investigation to find Poirier "haphazard and disjointed."
The investigation began when Poirier was declared missing, and has included foot and helicopter searches of the area near his home and on routes Poirier commonly traveled between Bolivia's capital of La Paz and villages where he worked in the Zongo Valley, two hours away. Officials have also monitored border crossings and printed Poirier's picture in newspapers. A video of the Poirier family began airing on Bolivian television last week, and the Peace Corps has offered a reward for information.
"I assure the Poirier family and the Peace Corps family that we will continue to pursue the search and the investigation until Walter is found," said Peace Corps Acting Director Charles Baquet III in a statement Thursday.
But Poirier's family, and then Meehan, argued that the search was unorganized, and that Poirier deserved better investigative efforts.
"I got the sense that the investigation on the ground in Bolivia was not an investigation the United States government could be proud of," the congressman told The Boston Globe as a representative of Lowell, Mass., Poirier's hometown.
Meehan noted investigators failed to transcribe interview tapes, and that no one examined Poirier's e-mails to look for clues to his whereabouts. Peace Corps spokeswoman Susan Buchanan noted that the Privacy Act prevents them from accessing Poirier's Yahoo! e-mail account and that they would not release interviews from an investigation that was still underway.
Investigators are unsure what happened to the volunteer. He was last seen at a meeting in LaPaz with his program director, on Feb. 22, according to Buchanan. Beyond that, there are few hard facts.
Some have speculated Poirier was killed in a mudslide, although Bolivian authorities reported no lethal mudslides in recent months.
Poirier's parents have suggested he was kidnapped. "Ransom" kidnappings, where a group of people kidnap someone, hold them hostage for a long period of time, and then contact the family demanding a ransom, have been known to occur in some South American countries in recent years. But there is no evidence of that, either, Buchanan said.
Poirier arrived in Bolivia in June and spent his first three months receiving training in language and life skills and in the eco-tourism development he was doing in his tour. He began work in August.
The two months he has been missing is the longest period of time any volunteer has been unaccounted for in the organization's history.
"This is a rare and unprecedented situation for the Peace Corps and it is our sincere hope that we find this young man soon," Baquet said.
Material from The Boston Globe was used in this report.
All News Stories for Tuesday, April 24, 2001