The family of a 20-year-old Wisconsin girl is searching for answers months after she was found dead in a resort pool in Playa del Carmen.
Abbey Conner of Pewaukee, Wisconsin, was found unconscious in the resort pool January 12 alongside her older brother Austin, who had a large lump on his head.
Both had just arrived at the resort for their first day of a family vacation and were swimming in the pool, celebrating the end of the first semester of college. The pair were just finishing up a swim at the pool while their mother and stepfather awaited their arrive in the hotel lobby for dinner.
They never came.
Instead, the brother and sister were already in a Mexican hospital after they were found unresponsive, face down in the pool. Both had blood alcohol contents well over the legal limit, but the context surrounding her death remains mysterious, and not much more information has been provided to the family. Her death has been ruled an “accidental drowning,” but her brother said there’s virtually no possibly way that could have happened. Austin said that he was with a group of people who had just offered him and his sister a shot, and that was the last thing he remembered before waking up in a hospital bed.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Abbey & Her Brother Were Found Unresponsive, Face Down in the Resort Pool
According to a report by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Abbey, Austin, her mother Ginny and stepfather John McGowan had just arrived at the hotel and settled into their first-floor rooms.
After unpacking inside the rooms, Abbey and Austin set out to the pool and sat on the swim-up bar while Ginny and John opted for a stroll along the beach. The newspaper reported that the pair “toasted to the completion of final exams” with shots of tequila.
After the walk, Ginny and John joined the brother and sister in the pool and ordered drinks while watching them swim. The report said that, having grown up on Pewaukee Lake, they were strong swimmers and “spent plenty of time in and around the water.”
It was about 5:30 p.m. local time when the parents went back to their room to get ready for dinner. The plan was for Abbey and Austin to meet them in the resort lobby at 7 p.m. and they would all go to dinner together.
Ginny and John awaited their arrival in the hotel lobby, as had been planned. After about 15 minutes, the mother went asked the hotel staff to call their hotel room because their cell phone reception wasn’t strong enough.
The woman at the front desk responded to the inquiry extremely distressed and went to get a manager, the Journal Sentinel article said.
“There had been an accident,” the hotel workers reportedly told the couple.
Instead of meeting their family in the hotel lobby as had been planned, the brother and sister were at Hospiten Riviera Maya medical center, about 14 miles away.
The hotel staff told the parents that Abbey and Austin had both been found unresponsive, face down in the pool.
2. Abbey Was ‘Brain-Dead’ at a Hospital
Ginny and John immediately rushed to the hospital to find Austin in stable condition and sedated with “a lump the size of a golf ball” on his head, the Journal Sentinels article said. Doctors told them that he suffered a “severe concussion,” but was conscious and would be OK.
As for Abbey, the prognosis was far worse. She was already on a ventilator and was in a coma, her collarbone was cracked.
According to the Journal Sentinel article, medical reports said Abbey had suffered an “anoxic brain injury” and “Cerebral edema,” meaning there was a lack of oxygen to the brain and severe inflammation.
Because of the seriousness of her injuries, doctors prepped to move the pair to another hospital, this one in Cancun. After that, she was to be flown to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to be at Broward Health Medical Center.
Once back on U.S. soil at the hospital, doctors told Ginny and John the terrible news: Abbey’s injuries had left her brain-dead. She was left on the medical equipment for a while, and the family ultimately decided to take her off of life support on January 12.
3. Abbey’s Death Has Been Ruled an ‘Accidental Drowning’
The official cause of death on Abbey’s death certificate says “accidental drowning,” but her parents aren’t certain that was the case. They’ve enlisted the assistance of officials, including the resort, police, doctors and even the F.B.I., but no further information or investigation was had.
The Journal Sentinel reported that the last thing Austin remembers was speaking to a couple alongside his sister at the pool bar. He noted there were a “group of young guys around as well, doing flips into the pool and drinking.”
The group invited Austin and Abbey to join them in doing a shot, and they all took one of an unknown alcohol — one Austin thought was a jaegerbomb — together. The brother said he doesn’t know exactly what was in the shot, noting that his sister had already taken about five shots of tequila.
“I’ve been in college for five years and had my fair share of drinks before,” he said to the newspaper. “No way in hell I’m putting my face down in a pool and going to sleep.”
A toxicology report on both of them were performed, and Abbey’s blood alcohol content was 0.25 while Austin’s was at 0.26. Blood tests on both of them didn’t find any opioids or any other drugs.
Abbey’s father Bill told the Journal Sentinel that he thinks somebody slipped his daughter “some type of drug” prior to her tragic death.
Mexican officials performed a “limited investigation” after her death, interviewing three members of the hotel’s staff.
Months later, the family is still struggling to find a motive and answers to Abbey’s death. Surveillance footage from the hotel hasn’t been provided, and the F.B.I. in Milwaukee told the family that they couldn’t assist them because “crimes on foreign soil are out of their jurisdiction,” the Journal Sentinel reported.
4. Abbey Was Attending School at UW-Whitewater
Austin and Abbey both attended colleges within the University of Wisconsin System. Austin had one more semester to go before he graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee when the incident took place.
Abbey, on the other hand, was about to embark on her second semester of her junior year at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. She was undecided on a major, but was leaning toward a career in business — human relations or public relations.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t miss you and your contagious laugh, smile, and energy,” Facebook user Genevieve Adler wrote to her Facebook wall. “You’re a huge reason I am the person I am today, you changed my life immensely and continue to do so. Praying for answers, love you sweet girl ♥️”
Abbey was buried January 21 in the Pewaukee area. Read her full obituary, which appeared in the Journal Sentinel, below:
Conner, Abigail Mae Abbey, you are so loved by many and our heart breaks to lose you at such a young age. Your tragic and sudden death hurts us all more than you will ever know. You will always be in our thoughts and in our hearts. Everyone will greatly miss you. We love you and will see you again one day. Abbey was a junior in college and just finished her first semester at UW-Whitewater. She loved her roommates and was flourishing in her new home. Abbey was taken into eternal life on January 12, 2017 at the age of 20 years. Abbey was the loving daughter of Ginny (John) McGowan of Pewaukee WI and Bill Conner of Oregon WI, and granddaughter of Bob & Donna Sprinkman of West Bend WI, Bernice & Jim Conner of Oregon WI, and Tom & Kay McGowan of West Bend WI. Abbey was the adoring sister of Austin Conner of Milwaukee, WI. She is remembered by many aunts, uncles, and cousins. We would like to thank all of her friends for their love and support of Abbey during her life, and for the tremendous outpouring of support we have received since her passing. Abbey will be remembered by everyone for her all-encompassing hugs, always-willing smile, and all-around passion for life.
5. Abbey’s Father, Who Set up a GoFundMe Page, Biked Over 1,500 Miles to Hear His Daughter’s Heart Beat Again
Following Abbey’s unexpected death, her father Bill, of Madison, set up a GoFundMe account. When Abbey passed her driver’s test, she had no doubt that she wanted to be an organ donor. Because of that, the father has gone on bike rides in her memory.
On July 10, Bill completed a trek of over 1,500 miles from Madison, Wisconsin to the Fort Lauderdale hospital where his daughter spent her last days.
“I still can’t believe this happened,” Bill said to the newspaper. “I’m still waiting for my daughter to walk through the door. This couldn’t have happened … in the middle of the bar, two adults, floating in the pool long enough to drown.”
On his way down south, he took a detour to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. That’s where Loumonth Jack Jr., the 21-year-old man who received Abbey’s heart as a transplant, lives. He told USA Today that he made the trek to Louisiana just so he could hear his daughter’s heart beating again.
On the GoFundMe page, Bill writes about how while the loss of his daughter was “beyond tragic, it’s allowed four males from the ages of 20-60 to live because Abigail was an organ donor.” In addition to her heart, his daughter’s eyes and tissues were also used in transplants.
Through my entire ride, I will be bringing awareness to the impact of organ donation and how important the gift of life truly is when tragedy shows up on your doorstep. I will be riding six days a week averaging 60-65 miles per day, and on my days off and at every stop along my bike route, I will be asking people to register online to become organ donors.
In three months, the campaign has surpassed $23,000 of the eventual $30,000 goal. To donate to the cause, click here.