Grieving and confused, Massachusetts natives Doug and Janet Colclough are desperately seeking answers about their daughter’s alleged murder in Nicaragua, and trying to arrange for the repatriation of her body before the Sandinista government breaks for Semana Santa vacation on Thursday.
Karen Colclough, 37, was found dead on Monday evening — three days after she was reported missing from the Hotel Barceló Montelimar, where she was spending a few days with her church group after a weeklong service mission project in Matagalpa. Her body was found a quarter of mile north of the hotel grounds after an extensive search of land and sea by police, navy, army, Red Cross, and civilians.
Colclough’s death is being treated as a murder. One Nicaraguan suspect has been taken into custody, the U.S. Embassy told the Colclough family this morning. An autopsy was performed in Managua and the family is awaiting the results, according to sources close to the Colcloughs.
Nicaraguan authorities have remained tight-lipped about the case. The Colclough family is receiving all its information from the U.S. Embassy and local Nicaraguan media, which they attempt to decipher after passing the articles through Google Translate.
For family and friends, the tragedy of Karen Colclough’s apparent murder is compounded by a lack of verifiable information and cross-cultural confusion.
“We don’t know how it works down there,” says Tori Howland, a close family friend who is helping Doug and Janet Colclough find answers from their home in Lynnfield, Massachusetts. “We hope there is an investigation and that the perpetrators are prosecuted, but we don’t know how things work down there.”
Howland says the Colclough family has not requested any help from U.S. law enforcement; their primary concern this week is repatriating Karen’s body — a process they think might take days or even weeks. “We just don’t know,” Howland says.
The Colclough family and Agros International, the group that organized the mission trip to Nicaragua, have expressed their gratitude to all those who helped search for Karen.
“The tremendous support provided by the members of the police forces, navy, army, and Red Cross occurred while also tending to the urgent needs of Nicaraguan citizens hurt and displaced by the recent earthquakes,” said Paul Moulton, head of Agros Internaitonal.
But since the discovery of the body, details about the investigation have not been forthcoming.
All the family knows at the moment is that Karen Colclough went missing sometime between breakfast and dinnertime last Friday. She was last seen by one of the me members of her church group around 9:30 a.m. at the Barceló Montelimar. The family is not clear whether Karen was going to jog or journal; there are conflicting reports about whether she was preparing to go for a run on the beach or hike off with a camera, Bible and diary to reflect on her service trip — her second to Central America.
Karen was reported missing after she failed to show up for the group’s debriefing dinner, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Friday night.
The body was found three days later, but the family does not know where exactly it was discovered or in what conditions. Childhood friend Stephanie Scaffidi thinks Karen’s alleged murder was most likely a random crime.
“No one could have a motive. She didn’t know anyone down there, just the people from her church. She didn’t even speak Spanish,” Scaffidi told The Nicaragua Dispatch in a phone interview.
She says Karen was friendly, but not foolish. She describes her friend as an independent, outdoorsy woman.
“If someone initiated a conversation with her, she would reply. But it was not like her to engage a stranger,” Scaffidi says. “She was not gregarious or outgoing.”
Scaffidi shares the Colclough family’s frustration about the lack of official information and conflicting media reports about Karen’s death.
“I have no idea what happened,” she says. “Information is hard to come by.”
Howland says the family’s top priority is to get Karen’s body back to Massachusetts. Then they’ll focus on the details of the crime.
“We want to know what happened and why. And we want the guilty person to be punished,” Howland says. “We need to figure out why someone would do this — although I don’t think you can ever know why an evil person would do this.”
A memorial service is being planned in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where Karen lived. The funeral will be held in her hometown of Lynnfield, Massachusetts.