June 25, 2004: Headlines: COS - Bolivia: Safety and Security of Volunteers: Lowell Sun: Peace Corps will hire detective in Poirier case

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Bolivia: PCOL Exclusive: Missing PCV Walter Poirier III (Bolivia) : Special Report: Missing Peace Corps Volunteer Walter Poirier III: June 25, 2004: Headlines: COS - Bolivia: Safety and Security of Volunteers: Lowell Sun: Peace Corps will hire detective in Poirier case

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-53-195.balt.east.verizon.net - on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 1:21 pm: Edit Post

Peace Corps will hire detective in Poirier case

Peace Corps will hire detective in Poirier case

Peace Corps will hire detective in Poirier case

Peace Corps will hire detective in Poirier case

Parents of Lowell man, legislators have blasted agency for failing to act

By IAN BISHOP, Sun Washington Bureau

and PETER WARD, Sun Staff

WASHINGTON Forty months after Walter Poirier of Lowell went missing from his Peace Corps job in Bolivia, the agency has agreed to hire an investigator to find out more about his disappearance.

The grief-stricken Poirier family, which has traveled to the South American country and testified in Congress, had twice before asked for such a move.

Poirier, a graduate of Lowell High and University of Notre Dame, was 23 when he vanished in Bolivia in February 2001 without a trace.

Now, after previous pleas from the family to hire an investigator were rebuffed, Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez informed Bay State lawmakers it will hire someone specifically investigate Poirier's disappearance.

The agency is "in the process of identifying an individual with the necessary skills and experience to assume the responsibility of determining what additional steps should be taken," Vasquez, who wasn't director when Poirier disappeared, wrote in a June 18 letter. "After we have selected such an individual and that individual has commenced his or her work, we will endeavor to provide you and the Poirier family with progress reports."

The news pleased the missing man's father, Walter, and mother.

"Walter and I feel there has never been a thorough investigation. It's been a hit-or-miss thing," Sheila Poirier said yesterday. "This is something we've been asking for all along."

Rep. Marty Meehan and Sens. Edward Kennedy and John Kerry have all asked the Peace Corps to revive the investigation.

"I hope that now the Poiriers are closer to learning what happened to their son," said Meehan.

The appointment of the special investigator is a ray of hope for the Poirier family, Kennedy said.

"They've been waiting too long for information about Walter's disappearance three years ago, and I commend the Peace Corps for their important initiative with the government of Bolivia," Kennedy said.

In June of 2001, Sheila Poirier and her sister traveled to Bolivia to meet with Peace Corps officers and law enforcement. They visited La Paz and El Alto, a stop along the bus route between the capital and Zongo Valley where Walter lived when he wasn't in La Paz. At both locales, she used the media to seek leads from the public. Several people mentioned possible sightings, but none of the leads checked out.

Later, the General Accounting Office, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, placed blame at the feet of the agency. It said Peace Corps supervisors and colleagues didn't realize Poirier was missing until his mother became alarmed after not hearing from her son in more than a month. Searches through the Zongo Valley produced nothing.

"Everything was way too late," his father testified before Congress in March.

Sheila Poirier said they hadn't received so much as an apology from the Peace Corps for losing track of her son.

They are now urging that a full-time Spanish-speaking investigator with Bolivian ties be assigned to track down their son.

The Peace Corps did not return calls seeking comment yesterday.

Meehan said heightened safety precautions for Peace Corps volunteers are being put into place so that "no family has to go through such a painful experience."

The Poiriers flew to Washington in March at the request of the House International Relations Committee.

"Twice we have asked the Peace Corps to hire a private investigator to really concentrate on our son's case and twice we have been rebuffed," his father told Congress.

In recounting the family's tragic experience to lawmakers, he painted the Peace Corps as a sloppy, uncaring agency.

Requests for information were stonewalled, he told lawmakers. A card from the Peace Corps arrived at the Poiriers' Raynor Street home, inviting them to share their volunteers' experience with others.

"In other words, we were left on a mailing list despite all we had been through," he said.

Poirier urged Congress to take an active role in reshaping the agency's mindset.

"If change is mandated through legislation, perhaps no other parent will have to appear before this body after losing a precious son or daughter due to lack of proper management, security protocols and resistant attitudes toward change," he said.

His testimony was bolstered by testimony from the editor of the Dayton Daily News, an Ohio newspaper that chronicled some 40 years of Peace Corps' failings.

"Major findings from our investigation show that the Peace Corps puts volunteers in danger by sending them alone to some of the most dangerous corners of the world," said the editor, Jeff Bruce. "Violence against volunteers is widespread."

Lawmakers are moving toward greater congressional oversight. The House International Relations Committee is expected this month to review a bill that would create a Peace Corps Office of Safety and Security.

Ian Bishop's e-mail address is ibishop@lowellsun.com . Peter Ward's e-mail address is pward@lowellsun.com .

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Story Source: Lowell Sun

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Bolivia; Safety and Security of Volunteers



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