Mother Turns Mourning Into Movement
Deaths of Students in Cancun Spur Families to Push for International Travelers Bill of Rights
Published: Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Updated: Thursday, April 7, 2011 12:04
"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. Davon, 22, who was vacationing in Cancun, Mexico, during Howard University's spring break a year ago, lit up when he saw his mother's face through his computer screen.
The two chatted briefly, and after exchanging a flood of "I-love-yous," Franklin kissed him goodbye through the screen and closed her laptop. The next morning, the traumatic irony of that playful, yet meaningless jingle would haunt her for the rest of her life and transform her into an advocate for the International Travelers Bill of Rights Act, now making its way through Congress.
Franklin remembered the morning of March 14, 2010, as an unusually quiet and serene one. She and her husband, Chavez, had done their usual Sunday routine: attended church and then went out for a late breakfast. And just as they had discussed with their son, Davon, a few days earlier, they went to the movie theater to watch "Alice and Wonderland."
Later that evening, the two sat down at home to arrange Davon's graduation trip to Las Vegas. Just then, the phone rang.
It was Davon's girlfriend, Jasmine, who was in medical school in Antigua. Inez's deepest fears suddenly grew stronger from the moment she noticed something terribly peculiar in Jasmine's tone. Stricken with anxiety, Franklin immediately asked, "Is my son alive?"
Overcome with grief, Franklin handed the phone to her husband. Her only child was dead. Without any information as to his exact whereabouts or what happened, she felt out of control as her world crumbled around her.
Davon's classmates frantically explained to his parents over the phone that he had drowned after experiencing a cramp while swimming in the ocean.
Being that he was a trained swimmer and athlete, Davon's friends knew something was wrong when they noticed him thrashing in the waves, screaming for help.
While several friends quickly swam out to his rescue, another sprinted through the sand towards the resort property to find a lifeguard.
"I am going to die!" cried Davon, as he gasped for air and struggled to keep his head above water. Two of his friends finally reached him just as he was succumbing to exhaustion, desperately trying to keep him afloat.
Minutes later, Davon's friend located a lifeguard and rushed back to the beach. When Davon was pulled to shore, he appeared to be no longer breathing. An American nurse and doctor who heard the dire cries of Davon's friends came over and attempted to resuscitate his lifeless body. Once the lifeguard and paramedics arrived, Davon was transported to Amerimed Hospital in Cancun where he was pronounced dead.
Suspicious Calls About Suspicious Bills
Within 30 minutes after learning of their tragic loss, a man named Jesus called the Franklins. He said he worked at the resort where Davon and his friends were staying, and he called to request their credit card information so that he could begin sending them the ambulatory and medical bills. Franklin questioned 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," Franklin 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."
While the man claiming to work at Amerimed insisted on obtaining their credit card information, Franklin noticed something strange in his voice. The second individual sounded exactly like the Jesus she talked to minutes before, who claimed he worked at the hotel.
"It was then that we believed these people were trying to take advantage of us," Franklin said "Not once did we feel like any of these people calling us showed compassion, nor did they even apologize for our loss. They were only concerned about money, but we hadn't even been presented with a statement listing the charges. My husband and I refused to pay, and they never called back so we knew something was not right."
In the days that followed, the Franklins began learning more of the horrific details surrounding their son's death. Davon's friends stated that the Mexican authorities refused to transport him to the hospital until the students came up with $600 to cover the ambulatory ride.
"His friends pleaded with the officials to just send him to the hospital and reassured them that they would get the money," Franklin said. "One of the girls told me that the officials showed no immediacy, and that she and the rest of Davon's friends had no choice but to run back to the resort and round up the money before the paramedics agreed to take him to the hospital."
Examining the medical receipts from the hospital, she 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.
Franklin then had a U.S. attorney probe the bills and interrogate the medical authorities at the hospital in Cancun. Suddenly, the shady charges were dropped.
After Davon's body arrived in Baltimore, Franklin discovered a long scar across the top of his head, an incision that the doctors never explained. In addition, once she received his death certificate, she saw that it, too, contained errors, listing Davon's death as a homicide. The Franklins were convinced Davon's death was treated with indecency and disrespect.
Two weeks later, Franklin sat at her computer, still numb. She spent hours online doing research, determined to find out as much as she could about the accident in Cancun.