Victims' Mothers Turn Mourning Into Movement

The parents of a Howard student who died on spring break are working to ensure no one else will suffer a loss like theirs.

"Shame, shame, shame. I don't want to go to Mexico no more, more, more," sang Inez Franklin as she video-chatted with her son, Davon Green-Franklin, via Skype last year.

Davon, 22, who was vacationing in Cancun, Mexico, with friends during his final spring break before graduating from Howard University, lit up when he saw his mother's face through the computer screen. 

The two chatted briefly, and after exchanging "I love you"'s, Inez kissed him goodbye on the computer screen and closed her laptop.

The next evening, March 14, 2010, Inez and her husband, Chavez Franklin, had just sat down together to begin making arrangements for Davon's college graduation trip when the phone rang. It was Davon's girlfriend. Inez knew something was wrong by Jasmine's tone. Stricken with anxiety, Inez immediately asked, "Is my son alive?"

"No."

Overcome, Inez handed the phone to her husband.

Davon's classmates frantically explained to his parents over the phone that Davon Franklin had drowned in the ocean after having a cramp while swimming. Davon was a trained swimmer and athlete, but his friends knew something was wrong when they noticed him thrashing in the waves, calling for help.

By the time Davon was pulled to shore, he was no longer breathing. Davon was transported to Amerimed Hospital in Cancun where he was pronounced dead.

The Franklins' grief had just begun -- but so had their odyssey through a system of international bureaucracy, non-answers and possible fraud.

Within a 30 minutes of learning of Davon's death, the Franklins received a call from a man calling himself Jesus. He said he worked at the resort where Davon and his friends were staying, and that he was calling to request their credit card information so that he could begin sending them the ambulance and medical bills.

Inez Franklin asked why someone employed by the hotel would be responsible for handling the medical billing from the hospital. "He explained to me that the hospital and the hotel sometimes work together," she said. "But then after I refused to give him our credit card information, I got a second call from a man claiming he worked at the hospital where Davon was taken."

But Inez noticed that this second caller sounded exactly like the first man she'd talked to minutes before.

"It was then that we believed these people were trying to take advantage of us," said Inez. The Franklins refused to pay -- "and they never called back, so we knew something was not right."

In the days followed, the Franklins began learning more of the horrific details surrounding their son's death. Davon's friends said that the Mexican authorities refused to transport him to the hospital until the students came up with $600 to cover the ambulance ride.

Examining the medical receipts from the hospital, Inez Franklin noticed charges that claimed Davon was put on life support in addition to being relocated to a special treatment unit of the hospital. Another one of Davon's friends, who was by his side the entire time, said he received no such treatment and his body was never moved.

Inez then had a U.S. attorney probe the bills and interrogate the medical authorities at the hospital in Cancun, and suddenly the shady charges were dropped. And once Davon's body was returned home to Baltimore, Inez discovered a long incision scar across the top of his head, which was never explained by doctors.

In addition, once she received his death certificate, she saw that it, too, contained errors, listing Davon's death as a homicide.

REACHING OUT

Two weeks later, Inez Franklin sat at her computer, still numb and confused. She spent hours online doing research, determined to find out as much as she could about the accident in Cancun.

Her search lead her to a website called MexicoVacationAwareness.com, created by a woman named Maureen Webster.

Webster's son, Nolan, died in Cancun in 2007. She built the site to highlight the stories of others who died while in Mexico, and to provide evidence of the alarming number of American tourists who were dying while there.

Longing for a resolution, Inez Franklin mustered up just enough strength to type out a single sentence to Webster: "My son died in Cancun, Mexico."

Webster responded immediately, sharing the story of her own son's tragic death with Franklin and encouraged her to read more of the other victims' stories on the website. Webster revealed that in her own son's case, Nolan was actually denied CPR by the alleged hotel doctor, and left to die.

Franklin also learned that in March 2010, there were 32 recorded deaths of U.S. tourists in Mexico. And just like her, many other victims' loved ones felt like their cases were mishandled, that the Mexican authorities showed insensitivity to their losses, and too many questioned remained unanswered.

It was then that Inez decided to join forces with Webster and another woman, Nancy Midlock, whose son, Brent, died in Mexico in 2003. With the help of Webster's state congressman Edward Markey, H.R. 3099 had been introduced in June 2009.

Webster wanted the act -- also known as the International Travelers Bill of Rights -- to require travel websites to provide their customers with health and safety related information.

"We polled thousands of students at several universities, asking them if they were familiar with the State Department's travel website," said Franklin. Many of these students weren't, and most admitted they rarely looked into the advisories about their destinations before traveling abroad, she said.

"In addition, we discovered that many of these students did not know that if you die outside of America, your United States life insurance is invalid," she said. "That is why many families are forced to have their loved ones cremated [to be] sent back to them."

If the act is passed, it would require websites like Expedia.com and Travelocity.com to include the following information for would-be travelers:

     * Any applicable State Department travel warnings or alerts
     * Whether the hotel/resort employs a physician or a nurse
     * Whether the hotel/resort has an automatic external defibrillator and employs personnel trained to use it
     * Whether the hotel/resoemploys personnel trained in CPR
     * Whether the destination employs a lifeguard in swimming areas

'ENERGY FOR A CAUSE'

Two months after hearing Davon's story, Md. Rep. Elijah Cummings signed on to push the bill.

Local

Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia local news, events and information

How to stay cool and safe as a heat wave hits the DC area

Road closures ahead of Potomac River Tunnel Project

Cory Scott, one of Davon's closest friends, felt compelled to get involved, and joined the National Working Group for the International Travelers' Bill of Rights as the chairman and director.

In March, Scott and the Franklins made their way back to Capitol Hill with a refreshed strategy.

"We are looking to have the bill run concurrently in the House and Senate so that our home state senators can shepherd the bill, ultimately gaining bipartisan support," Scott said. "So far, Congress has received our proposal very well, and we are optimistic about the anticipated hearing to come in the next few months."

For Inez Franklin, working to save the lives of others is her only reassurance that her son's death was not in vain. "All of the families working with the International Travelers Bill of Rights Act are no longer focusing on the pain," she said. "We have transformed our pain into energy for a cause. We three families represent the thousands who have suffered."

With uncanny timing, one of the last tweets Davon sent out before he drowned read, "Life lessons from the ocean water: The waves will pull you out further before they take you back to shore."

Contact Us