A 23-year-old Columbia University graduate student, Catherine Johannet, was found strangled to death Sunday on a hiking trail near a beach in Panama’s Bastimentos Island, according to News 12 Westchester.
On Thursday, February 2, Catherine reportedly went off alone to Bastimentos from nearby Colon Island for a hiking trip and was supposed to return the same day. When family and friends hadn’t heard from her, they reported her missing.
Panama police went in search of the missing woman while her friends and family posted photos of her around town in hopes of finding her alive and well.
However, last weekend, Catherine’s decomposing body was found by police around 2:11 p.m. on a hiking trail in Panama, strangled to death by her own bikini.
It was determined that Catherine never returned to her hotel after going hiking.
Panamanian police officials believe the motive for the killing may have been robbery.
“It seems to be a case of theft because the victim lacked a digital camera and some bracelets and necklace, but it could also be that the perpetrator committed the homicide by pretending to be a robbery,” officials said.
— FOX 5 San Diego (@fox5sandiego) February 9, 2017
A week before Catherine – who received a Bachelor’s degree in comparative literature in 2015 and worked as an English teacher until October, 2016, – was found dead, she posted a picture on Instagram with a caption that read: “I found paradise and it’s called Isla Ina.”
Catherine is described as an explorer of the world, and she loved people. Her father, Chris Johannet, stated that they were planning to visit Antarctica.
In a Facebook post, Catherine’s older brother, Paul Johannet, released the tragic news, stating: “Unfortunately the worst has been confirmed. She passed away. We said goodbye to her today.”
“We love and miss her dearly. She was a world traveler — by the age of 23, she had already visited 6 continents and innumerable countries, including a recent 18-month trip to Vietnam where she taught English Literature to local students. She was cheerful, adventurous, thoughtful and warm — all qualities I strive towards. I’ll always look up to my youngest sister.”
The victim’s friend, Jack Lesh, was stunned after learning Catherine was found dead in Panama.
“I had to leave work. I couldn’t finish my shift at the bar I work at. I had to call someone to cover for me,” he said.
Social media users were outraged, wondering who would do such a thing to a young woman, while others questioned why Catherine traveled to the area by herself.
“I know these horrific things happen every hour of the day but it hurts every time they ‘pop’ up. Why would anyone do this? They compare these things to ‘animals,’ but, animals kill for nourishment, food, etc. This was a monster,” one user stated.
“Don’t roam in weird countries by yourself – always have at least two or three people with you,” another said.
— New York Post Metro (@nypmetro) February 8, 2017
The victim’s funeral was held in New York at the Scarsdale Congregational Church on Saturday, where hundreds gathered to say their goodbyes.
During the service, the victim’s older brother stated the following.
“I’m devastated at the thought of life without her. And I hope we meet again, though it won’t be soon enough.”
“Just days ago, Catherine had texted how she found paradise. Pictures showed a supremely happy person. Then the horrible news that she was missing came,” Catherine’s mother, Alice Medalia, said.
It has been reported that the Panamanian National Police detained eight people in connection with the slaying, but no charges have been filed.
The FBI has joined in on the investigation to catch Catherine’s killer, who they believe lives in the area where she was found dead.
An investigation is ongoing.
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