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Mom reveals what she saw on trip to Bahamas – NBC Chicago


Mom reveals what she saw on trip to Bahamas – NBC Chicago

Close friends and family of Taylor Casey, a Chicago woman who disappeared while attending a yoga retreat in the Bahamas, slammed program leaders and investigators in a newly released statement, calling their actions “disturbing and infuriating” as Casey remains missing for a second week.

“Let me make this clear to the U.S. media, the public, and our government officials: We are not satisfied with how this investigation has been handled thus far,” Casey’s friend Emily Williams said in the statement, which was released Monday.

According to the statement, Williams and Collete Seymore, Casey’s mother, had recently returned to the states from The Bahamas where they met with the U.S. Embassy, the Royal Bahamas Police Force and leadership at the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat, the program Casey was attending when she was reported missing.

“What we learned and observed during our time meeting with the authorities and Ashram leaders is disturbing and infuriating,” Williams’ statement went on to say.

In a statement, the retreat said it reported Casey missing when she didn’t attend her morning classes. The group said it was working with authorities on an investigation into Casey’s disappearance.

Visit to yoga retreat where Taylor Casey disappeared described as ‘deeply unsettling’

According to the statement, the group representing Casey visited the retreat, located in Paradise Island, Nassau, to collect Casey’s belongings on June 27, seven days after police announced that Casey, 41, had gone missing.

The statement goes on to say that Casey’s room and personal items — which included a bible, a teacher training coursebook, yoga practice materials and clothing — appeared to be “largely unprocessed by local authorities.”

The group went on to describe their visit to the retreat center as “deeply unsettling.”

“It became apparent to us when we met with the Sivananda Ashram leaders that they were struggling to keep a linear and cohesive narrative regarding Taylor’s disappearance,” Williams’ statement said.

The statement alleged that the contingent representing Casey were continually advised by the police to not speak to any guests at the retreat, leading them to believe that “maintaining the tranquility and comfort of the tourism experience” had taken precedence over the disappearance of Casey, a missing attendee.

In the statement, Seymore said she had to “beg” to talk to students, who then appeared to share rehearsed information. The statement also said that not all students at the retreat were made aware of Casey’s disappearance, and that no “missing persons” posters had been found on the retreat grounds or surrounding areas.

Seymore and Williams’ statement went on to say that police requested retreat participants submit statements regarding Casey, but that police would not specify whether any had been interrogated, and declined to share how many statements were collected.

The statement also described an event in which a manager of the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat said that that two days before Casey’s disappearance, an “unidentified man with a walk-talkie” was seen walking near the area where Casey’s tent was located.

A retreat participant also told the group that on the day of Casey’s disappearance, she been approached by the same man while sitting alone.

“The unidentified man was wearing a Celtics baseball cap and dressed in all black,” the statement said. “He claimed he was from Chicago and was interested in taking a yoga class. He proceeded to follow her onto the property.”

Upon learning of Casey’s disappearance, some program participants opted to leave early, the statement said. Following their visit to the retreat center, Williams and Seymore also changed their flights to return home earlier than planned after they “became concerned for their own safety,” citing “conditions and narrative control at the Ashram,” the statement said.

The Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat did not immediately respond to NBC Chicago’s request for comment regarding the allegations from Williams and Seymour.

When Taylor Casey was reported missing

On June 25, five days after Casey, 41, was reported missing by police, organizers of the yoga program posted a message to Facebook saying Casey’s disappearance was discovered on June 20 “when she did not attend morning classes.”

“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.”

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.

‘I feel like police did the bare minimum’

Monday’s statement from Casey’s family and friends also criticized the actions of investigators and police in the Bahamas, saying they provided incomplete information and demonstrated a “lack of serious attention” to the case.

For example, the statement said, while Bahamas National Security Minister Wayne Munroe told reporters the FBI was involved in the search, U.S. Embassy officials told Seymore otherwise.

“What this means is the police made a claim to the public that is not true,” Seymore said in the statement. “This makes me question everything they said.”

During a local press conference, Nassau Chief Superintendent Chrislyn Skippings said that drones, a canine unit and divers had been used in their “extensive” search for Casey, noting that officials canvassed both the island and the area around it. However, family and friends were informed that the search was conducted only between the yoga retreat and the Atlantis resort, an area that spans approximately 3.8 kilometers.

And, though Casey’s cellphone was located in the ocean and recovered, police have declined to turn the phone over to family, the statement said.

“I believe that phone may have information we need on there,” Seymore said in the statement.

The statement also contends that the Atlantis security team, rather than the Bahamas Police Force, were the agency that reviewed any surveillance video found.

‘This is every mother’s worst nightmare’

According to the statement, family and friends spoke with FBI officials on June 29, upon their return from the island. However, the U.S. has not intervened in the case, the statement said.

“I had to return home without her,” Seymore said. This is every mother’s worst nightmare. I felt an urgent need to return because without U.S. government support, we may never find out what happened to my Taylor.” 

Hours before the statement from Seymore and Williams was released, Chicago police issued a “missing persons” bulletin for Casey.

“If you have had any recent direct contact or correspondence with the missing above, or if you have any information regarding the current whereabouts of the missing please contact Area 5 Special Victims Unit immediately at (312) 746-6554,” the bulleting stated.

While the alert was issued several days after her disappearance was first reported in the Bahamas, police said Casey’s family filed the missing person reporte with them over the weekend.

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 week.

“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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