Family seeks answers in Seattle artist's death in Thailand
On Saturday, a Seattle man got word that his sister, Jill St. Onge, a 27-year-old Seattle artist, died mysteriously in Thailand.
Seattle Times staff reporter
What day is today? Wednesday?
Rob St. Onge has no idea. It's been days since he's really slept, days of devastating news and impossible logistics, of anger and frustration and all-night negotiations with people half a world away. On Saturday, he got word that his sister, Jill St. Onge, a 27-year-old Seattle artist, died mysteriously in Thailand.
It appears she suffered some type of poisoning, Rob St. Onge says. Which is, of course, bad enough. The fact that this occurred on the other side of the globe makes it all the more terrible.
He and the rest of the family want answers. But how can they know if they're getting the truth?
"We have no idea how they operate," said St. Onge, who lives near Fresno, Calif. "We can't just go in there like John Wayne demanding stuff. ... You have a risk of insulting them."
For now, the family is muddling through the best way they know how — and relying on technology to move things forward.
The family spread the word about Jill's death via Facebook, where Jill had hundreds of friends. Rob St. Onge started a blog chronicling the case, and it already has 10,000 hits. He spends days posting updates, and talking with friends and family, while caring for his 2-year-old son. Nights are spent navigating the Thai bureaucracy, with the help of the U.S. Embassy.
When Jill and her fiancé, Ryan Kells, took off three months ago for a tour of Southeast Asia, the family was worried. But the couple wanted an adventure. Jill taught art through Seattle Parks and Recreation, and was trying to start her own silk-screening business. She also tended bar at Shadowland in West Seattle. Kells is a glassblower.
With only days before they were to head home, they decided to "splurge" on a room with air conditioning on the island of Koh Phi Phi. That evening, Jill started feeling sick, and they chalked it up to food poisoning. Within a few hours, it was clear she needed to be hospitalized.
"I ran outside and found a kinda shopping-cart thing, brought it back, scooped Jill up and put her in," according to a blog post Kells later wrote. "I then started running toward the hospital screaming for help. ... They did CPR for about an hour to no avail."
Kells also was vomiting that night, but has recovered, St. Onge said. He remains in Thailand, where his parents have joined him, waiting to bring Jill's remains back home.
Here's the kicker: Two Norwegian tourists staying in the same guesthouse were also sickened that night, according to The Associated Press. One of them died, and the other was in intensive care.
Speculation is flying. Was it some kind of chemical from the water-treatment plant next to the guesthouse? Something coming through the AC vents? Could they have been purposely poisoned?
"I think they've already ruled out foul play," St. Onge said.
He's been troubled, though, by some reports that seem to point the finger back at Jill.
"They're suggesting that these crazy tourists come to their island and do crazy things and get killed," St. Onge said.
The fact that Thailand relies on tourism has led some to wonder how officials there will handle the case.
Logistics have proved difficult for the family, which includes Jill's father, mother and stepfather in California, and a younger brother, Paul St. Onge, in Seattle.
Two Thai holidays this week and clunky communication systems have added to the frustration.
Authorities in Thailand are conducting an autopsy, and the family has asked for tissue samples tests can be run here, St. Onge said. Meanwhile, they wait, knowing the explanation for Jill's fate is in someone else's hands.
"I want Jill here," St. Onge said. "I want it to be solved. I want it to never happen to anyone again over there. ...
"I gotta remind myself it's only been, what, six days?"
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Maureen O'Hagan: 206-464-2562 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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