Probe botched, say kin of U.S. man lost in Bolivia

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The Bolivian investigator said they had not identified any solid leads, nor finished reading the mounds of paperwork given to them to review when the Peace Corps investigator left Bolivia in mid-November.

Raising hope for a break in the case, a formal criminal complaint was filed with La Paz police in August against two persons in connection with the volunteer’s disappearance.

In the complaint, which obliges La Paz police to investigate, Ramiro Machaca, 22, an Aymara Indian, said he was kidnapped May 23 and held for six days in a Zongo Valley river tunnel near the Wahi electric plant.

Mr. Machaca, who worked at the plant, said he was kidnapped because in February, while cleaning the machines at the plant one evening, he had overheard two other employees discussing Mr. Poirier. Mr. Machaca said they were celebrating and drinking alcohol.

“One of them made a toast to ‘el chango’ Walter Poirier,” Mr. Machaca said, using slang for “the kid.”

“Then, they began talking about what they did with his body,” he said, adding that the two mentioned it was buried in the mountains below Zongo Pass.

Several witnesses have corroborated to La Paz police the kidnapping of Mr. Machaca. A medical report from Agramont Hospital in El Alto, near La Paz, said he was brought there May 30 in a “metabolic coma.” A doctor wrote that Mr. Machaca also bore head injuries, with signs of strangulation and lack of oxygen to the brain.

But formal criminal charges have not been filed. La Paz District Attorney Audalia Zurita said the authorities need more evidence. She said last month that she last communicated with the U.S. Embassy about the Poirier case in late September.

She said her office wants to conduct a monthlong search for Mr. Poirier’s body in the areas of Zongo identified by witnesses who have come forward in connection with the Machaca case, but the U.S. Embassy wants a more precise location before it hires specialists and equipment.

“I still believe the information we have on the possible whereabouts of Poirier is credible, but I need help convincing the U.S. Embassy,” Mrs. Zurita said.

But others say Bolivian authorities share much of the blame for the failed investigation into Mr. Poirier’s disappearance.

His parents also think more can be done. “We are perplexed as to why the embassy and Peace Corps have not embraced this lead,” they said.

“The Poirier family feels that, from the beginning, the Peace Corps was inept and unprepared to handle our son’s disappearance — they simply did not know what to do.”

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