New search for Peace Corps Volunteer Walter Poirier III
The U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Dover, Del., is examining bones and clothing discovered last month during the most extensive search yet for Lowell Peace Corps volunteer Walter Poirier III. The Peace Corps hasn't ruled out the possibility the bones are Poirier's, but others are doubtful. The six-year-old probe into Poirier's disappearance appeared stalled until the Peace Corps reinvigorated its search efforts and sent an advance team to Bolivia early this year to prepare for last month's expedition. Senator Chris Dodd, D-Conn., a former Peace Corps volunteer, stepped in to ensure cooperation from the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia, which had had a strained relationship with the Peace Corps earlier in the investigation. Then, last month, Peace Corps Inspector General David Kotz led a 27-person expedition, including four members of his staff, eight search and rescue specialists from the U.S. National Park Service, two FBI agents and four handlers with cadaver-sniffing dogs.
Investigators believe Poirier attended a community meeting in the small village of Coscapa, about 11,500 feet above sea level, on Feb. 3, 2001. Then, against the advice of villagers, Poirier left in a heavy rainstorm headed toward the village of Liaullini, where there was a schoolhouse in which he kept a sleeping bag. There are numerous hydroelectric plants in the region and Poirier followed an aqueduct trail fed by drainage that would have had significant run-off about the time he was hiking it, according to a narrative prepared by the park service. The search team worked through extreme conditions in terrain so steep at points that members were forced to rappel alongside waterfalls and use machetes to cut through the underbrush. Despite the bones that searchers discovered, it's now believed Poirier's remains are buried under debris flows or were washed out of the search area, according to the park service.
Walter Poirier accepts that it was probably already too late to save his son by the time his wife Sheila Poirier contacted the Peace Corps to report him missing in March 4, 2001, but the immediate response by government officials afterward has been harder to stomach. The General Accounting Office, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, placed blame for Poirier's disappearance on the Peace Corps, faulting it for not knowing he was missing until his mother reported she had lost contact. The GAO found that volunteers such as Poirier were often put in unfamiliar and dangerous countries with little or no direction or protection. There were various leads into his disappearance, but there have been questions over whether the Peace Corps investigator pursued them vigorously. One lead indicated Poirier may have been killed over a debt . A second reported he'd been buried in a mountain pass. Under pressure from Massachusetts' federal legislators, the Peace Corps hired an independent investigator in June 2004, but that didn't appear to help the investigation. Read more.
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