Missing Persons

Royal Bahamas Police Supt. placed on leave amid investigation into Chicago woman's disappearance at yoga retreat

The announcement comes as the Royal Bahamas Police Force investigates several cases of missing persons, including a woman from Chicago who disappeared during a yoga retreat on Paradise Island in Nassau

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Editor's Note: The latest update can be found here. Our original story continues below.

The Chief Superintendent of the Royal Bahamas Police Force has been placed on "garden leave," officials announced, raising questions about the integrity of the organization as an investigations into missing persons cases in Bahamas continue, including one involving a Chicago woman who disappeared while attending a yoga retreat on the island.

According to a July 5 bulletin from the police force, Michael Johnson, Chief Superintendent and Officer-in-Charge-of the Criminal Investigation Department, agreed to garden leave -- a policy similar to paid leave -- following recent social media circulation of "voice notes" involving Johnson.

The bulletin noted that Chief Superintendent Anthon Rahming will assume Johnson's responsibilities as the investigation continues.

During a press conference held by police July 8, officials elaborated on the investigating into Johnson, saying the voice notes raised "serious concerns." Officials also acknowledged the case had impacted trustworthiness in the police force.

"The Royal Bahamas police force has a proud history of service," Police Commissioner Clayton Fernander said during the update. "Unfortunately, there may be instances where individuals fall short of our standards of integrity. This is painful, especially if found within senior ranks, nobody, and I repeat, nobody is above the law."

"...We understand fully that this case affect public trust. And confidence," Fernander went on to say. "We have made efforts to address this, but assertions like the present case set us back."

Officials during the update also commented on the investigation into Taylor Casey, of Chicago, who disappeared while attending a yoga retreat on Paradise Island in Nassau last month. Fernander said searches using divers and submersible drone technology were conducted near the area Casey's phone had been found, but that no new evidence had been discovered.

"They came up negative with additional information," Fernander said, adding that officers, canines and marines were continuing to search the area.

Fernander noted that the force was also investigating another missing persons case involving Devon Issacs, a local 17-year-old boy who disappeared more than seven weeks ago.

"That is a concern for us," Fernander said. "No kind of indication, no calls came in that they had any sighting of him."

When Taylor Casey was reported missing

Casey was attending a Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat in Paradise Island in Nassau when she disappeared, according to officials. Organizers of the program say Casey's disappearance was discovered on June 20 "when she did not attend morning classes."

On June 25, five days after Casey, 41, was reported missing by police, organizers of the yoga program posted a message to Facebook about the disappearance.

"A participant from our yoga certification program, Taylor Casey is missing," The Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat posted on Facebook last week. "She was last seen at the retreat late on the evening of June 19th."

The statement, also emailed to NBC Chicago, went on to request that anyone with information on Casey's whereabouts contact local police.

"The Ashram is working with authorities in their investigation." the statement said. "Your assistance is greatly appreciated."

A similar message was emailed on June 27 to yoga retreat attendees.

"We advised Taylor's family, the US embassy and the police of the situation at the end of the day on June 20, and we continue to collaborate with everyone involved," the email obtained by NBC Chicago read in part. "At the same time, please rest assured that your safety and security is our top priority and that appropriate measures are in place to ensure your well-being."

Shortly after Casey was reported missing, a group of family and friends traveled to the Bahamas to meet with local officials and organizers of the yoga retreat.

Casey's mom, Collete Seymore, released a statement after returning from the trip, describing her experience as "unsettling," "disturbing" and "infuriating."

What is the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat?

The retreat, on Paradise Island in Nassau, is described as a "vibrant yoga ashram offering vacations, courses, and teacher trainings as well as cleanses, detox programs, healing arts trainings, family programs, kirtan and more," according to the group's Facebook page.

Visitors are able to rent a variety of accommodations when staying at the Ashram, including rooms, huts and tents, the group's website showed.

Earlier this year, the retreat was featured as part of a "Wellness Retreats & Destination Spas" guide from Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow's luxury brand and website.

The retreat issued the following statement Tuesday evening:

"All of us are distraught over Taylor’s disappearance, and our hearts go out to her family and friends.. With that in mind, I wish to advise you that we did our best to provide Taylor’s mother and friends with support and comfort while they were in the Bahamas last week. We met with them along with the police and the representatives of the US embassy on two occasions – once at police headquarters and once at the ashram. Taylor’s family and friends stayed at the ashram for many hours after the end of the official meeting to collect her belongings and speak with Taylor’s teachers, fellow students and administrators.

To be clear, the police advised us that while we can encourage community members to speak with them, it must be their choice. So we announced their presence to Taylor’s classmates and teachers and invited anyone wanting to meet with them to come forward.  Many of our community members chose to speak with them and the ashram did not intervene in terms of what individuals said.  They were encouraged to speak freely.  Any perceived hesitancy could have been due to their own grieving processes. 

At the end of the afternoon, Taylor’s mother and friends thanked us profusely for our help."

U.S. Travel Advisory issued for The Bahamas

In January, the U.S. issued a "Level 2" Travel Advisory for the Bahamas, warning that travelers should "exercise increased caution in The Bahamas due to crime."

"The majority of crime occurs on New Providence (Nassau) and Grand Bahama (Freeport) islands," the advisory said. "Violent crime, such as burglaries, armed robberies, and sexual assaults, occur in both tourist and non-tourist areas. Be vigilant when staying at short-term vacation rental properties where private security companies do not have a presence. "

The Nassau Guardian said Director General of Tourism Latia Duncombe addressed the travel advisory last month.

“The destination is safe and we have to make sure visitors do feel safe when they visit the Bahamas," Duncombe said. "Whenever there is an odd occurrence, it does increase concern and we want to make sure we address it in a very measured way.”

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