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Family seeks answers in Winona State grad's death

ROCHESTER, Minn. (AP) — Family and friends of a Winona State University graduate who died in Vietnam under unexplained circumstances have launched a letter-writing campaign to get the U.S. government to seek answers.

Kari Bowerman, 27, of Lake Geneva, Wis., and her friend, Cathy Huynh, 26, of Hamilton, Ontario, became sick and died shortly after they arrived in Vietnam in late July for a vacation. Their families say they've been unable to obtain an explanation of why they died from Vietnamese authorities or U.S. consular officials in Vietnam.

Friends and family theorize the women may have died of some type of insecticide poisoning, the Post-Bulletin of Rochester reported Monday.

"It's been two months and we still have nothing," said Carrie Meiners, who was Bowerman's best friend in college and one of the campaign's principal organizers.

Kari Bowerman's sister, Ashley Bowerman, said their campaign has spread to at least 12 states. Minnesota Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Tim Walz are among the targets.

"I'm incredibly saddened and troubled by Kari and Cathy's deaths," said Franken in a written statement to the newspaper. "I know a lot of people in Minnesota have questions about what exactly happened to these young women, and I'm going to be doing what I can to get answers."

According to news reports, Huynh took Bowerman to a hospital in the tourist city of Nha Trang on July 30 after both became sick and repeatedly vomited that day. Bowerman deteriorated rapidly. She was put on a respirator but died that night. Huynh was released from the hospital after a few hours and returned to their hotel room, but returned to the hospital a few days later with similar symptoms and died.

Both women had been working as English teachers in South Korea and traveled to Vietnam during a break from school.

The friends said their efforts to learn more about what happened have been stymied. Bowerman's body was cremated sometime after Vietnamese authorities told a sister in a phone conversation that Bowerman had died. An autopsy was reportedly performed but the results are still pending, they say.

And to get Huynh's body back into Canada, it had to be embalmed, they said, possibly limiting the evidence that could be gleaned from an autopsy.

Bowerman's friends and family say the deaths fit a pattern what they say are mysterious travelers' deaths in Southeast Asia in recent years.

Dorothy Pettit, a Caledonia Elementary School teacher who supervised Bowerman when she was a student teacher, said she has been approached by other teachers at the school who plan to send letters.

Pettit said Bowerman knew there was some risk in traveling overseas and that if something happened to her, she wanted her funeral to be a celebration of life. Pettit, who attended the funeral, said the servce, though "sad" and "heartbreaking," was true to Bowerman's wish.

"It was about Karin the teacher," she said.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.