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Wisconsin Family Seeks Answers After Daughter's Mysterious Death During Mexico Vacation

On Jan. 12, the family decided to withdraw life support, but months later, they still don’t know what actually happened to their daughter

It started off as a family vacation to remember: walks on sandy beaches, poolside relaxation and a tropical atmosphere.

But what was supposed to be a relaxing getaway quickly turned into a horrific nightmare, and now, a Wisconsin family is searching for answers after their 20-year-old daughter suddenly died at a Mexico resort earlier this year.

The family of Abbey Conner says the college student was on winter break with her older brother, mother and stepdad in Playa del Carmen when Conner mysteriously suffered a "traumatic brain injury."

John and Ginny McGowan, Conner’s mother and stepdad, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel they had spent their afternoon relaxing by the pool while their children swam. Just before 6 p.m., the couple went up to their rooms to get ready for dinner with their children, but when they arrived in the lobby to meet them an hour later, they realized something was wrong.

Ginny McGowan said she asked the hotel desk to call her children’s room, but the employee quickly appeared flustered. She told the Journal Sentinel hotel workers said her children had been in an accident and she needed to go to a nearby hospital.

Both Abbey and her brother Austin, who had spent part of their afternoon at a poolside bar, were found unconscious, face down in chest-deep water.

Iberostar Paraiso Resort confirmed the two received "immediate medical attention" by on-staff doctors, paramedics and security guards before they were taken to a hospital. 

Austin survived, but Abbey Conner was transferred to a hospital in Cancun and later flown to Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the publication reports. There, doctors confirmed Conner was brain-dead.

On Jan. 12, the family decided to withdraw life support and donate Conner’s organs.

But months later, they still don’t know what actually happened to their daughter.

The Journal Sentinel reports the official cause of death was "accidental drowning," but family said they have doubts about that ruling.

Conner’s brother reportedly told the publication the duo had done a few shots together before a group invited them to do a shot together. They all drank one, and that was the last thing he remembers before waking up in an ambulance.

According to the report, Austin Conner's blood-alcohol level was 0.26 and Abbey's was 0.25. 

A police report was given to the family for the first time last week, which includes statements from three staffers who arrived at the scene and pulled the kids from the water, family members told the Journal Sentinel. It does not contain any statements from hotel guests, the bartender or a woman who alerted hotel staff after seeing the Conners in the pool, the family said.

"My kids were at this hotel for less than two hours. The last thing my son remembers is having a drink in the pool," the children's father, Bill Conner, who was not in Mexico at the time, told NBC affiliate WMTV in April. "The next thing my son remembers is they woke up in the hospital. Somebody got to them… This was at 5:30 in the afternoon, daylight, exclusive hotel and you just don't think it'll happen to you."

"It's all too convenient," the McGowans’ attorney, Florentino Ramirez, told the Journal Sentinel. "If it was an accident, where was everybody? It just doesn't make sense. There are too many open ends."

Iberostar Paraiso Resort released a statement to say they are taking the situation "very seriously" and that the company "has always remained cooperative."

"The safety and security of guests is utmost priority for us," the statement said. "We are deeply saddened by this incident and reiterate our deepest sympathies and condolences to the family."

A State Department official confirmed to NBC 5 the department is “aware of this case.”

“We extend our sincere condolences to family and friends,” the official said in a statement. “In cases of U.S. citizens injured overseas, the Department of State works to provide all appropriate consular assistance. Out of respect for the family, we have no further comment.” 

Conner's organs went on to save the lives of four others, her family said. 

Bill Conner has since rode his bicycle 2,000 miles across the country, from Madison to Fort Lauderdale, to the hospital where his daughter took her last breath. The ride raised money for Donate Life America in an effort to honor his "daughter's good deeds and empower others to the same." 

"Organ donation and carrying Abbey's name forward, that's what she'd want me to do," Conner told WMTV.

A GoFundMe page for the ride raised more than $23,000. 

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