Everything we know about mysterious Sandals resort deaths in the Bahamas

Three US tourists in their 60s were tragically found dead last week at the luxurious Sandals Emerald Bay resort

Sheila Flynn
Wednesday 11 May 2022 16:17
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Three tourists found dead at Bahamas resort
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Authorities in the Bahamas continue to investigate the mysterious deaths last week of three American tourists staying at the luxury Sandals Emerald Bay resort on the island of Exuma.

Michael Phillips, 68, and his wife Robbie, 65, who lived in Tennessee, were found dead Friday morning in their villa. Vincent Chiarella, 64, was found dead in the adjoining villa; he was visiting the Bahamas with his wife, Donnis, who was discovered alive on a bed and rushed to the hospital.

She was later airlifted to Florida and listed in good condition Tuesday, a spokesperson told Fox News.

She was in good condition Tuesday after being airlifted to Florida, Bahamas police said.

Detectives from New Providence – the country’s most populous island and location of the capital, Nassau – travelled to Exuma after police were alerted to the deaths.

Autopsies were conducted on Monday, and samples taken from the deceased have been sent to Philadelphia for testing, according to the Nassau Guardian.

Bahamas Commissioner of Police Paul Rolle said Monday that the cause of death remained under investigation. Sandals is cooperating with authorities, according to a statement from the resort company.

Three US tourists died and one is in good condition at a Florida hospital in a mysterious tragedy at Sandals Emerald Bay in the Bahamas

Timeline of events

The Chiarella and Phillips couples both complained of feeling unwell on Thursday evening and received medical treatment before returning to their rooms, Mr Rolle said Monday.

“They were all treated at different times and they ate at different places,” he said.

The alarm was raised on Friday morning by Mrs Chiarella, her son told ABC News.

“She woke up and my dad was laying there on the floor, and she couldn’t move,” Austin Chiarella said. “Her legs and arms was swollen and she couldn’t move and she screamed to get someone to come in the door.”

Shortly after 9am on Friday, 7 May, resort staff contacted police in George Town and said “that the body of a male was found in one of the villas unresponsive,” according to a statement from the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF).

“On their arrival at the scene they were directed to the first villa. On entering a bedroom, they found a Caucasian male lying on the ground unresponsive. An examination of the body was conducted, there was no signs of trauma found. The local doctor later pronounced the victim dead.”

The statement continued: “The officers were then directed to the second villa, where they found a Caucasian male slumped against a wall in a bathroom unresponsive. A Caucasian female was also found in a bedroom on a bed. She to {sic} was unresponsive. Both individuals showed signs of convulsion. The officers examined the bodies and found no signs of trauma. The local doctor later pronounced both persons dead.”

Who were the victims?

The couple in the first villa have been named as Vincent and Robbie Chiarella, who were celebrating their wedding anniversary, their son said. The Chiarellas, who spent most of their lives in Alabama, had been visiting from Panama City, Florida.

Mrs Chiarella remained in serious condition Monday, Mr Rolle told a news conference, before being upgraded to good condition the following day, according to Fox. According to an interview her brother, Steve Mulder, gave DailyMail.com, she was covered in rashes.

“I am just so heartbroken right now,” the Chiarellas’ son, Austin, told ABC. “My dad was everything to me.”

Staying in the villa next door was the second couple found dead, identified as Michael and Robbie Phillips, who owned a travel agency in Tennessee.

Mrs Phillips was a “Certified Sandals Specialist, a Preferred Sandals agent, a Certified Sandals WeddingMoons Specialists, and a member of the elite Sandals Chairman’s Royal Club,” according to the website for the couple’s business, Royal Travel.

As part that travel agency, she started The Sand Lady, which “started as a mother-daughter-team [but] has now expanded to include four adopted sisters!” the site states.

“We have personally visited each of the resorts we sell, and each year we attend multiple training sessions offered by Sandals. This way we stay familiar with all of the new features and specials that each resort offers. To ensure we are able to handle every need or request of our clients, we maintain a personal relationship with resort managers, wedding coordinators, and other staff at each Sandals and Beaches resort.”

Robbie and Michael Phillips had three children and six grandchildren, their company site adds.

MIke Phillips, and his wife, Robbie, were found dead last week in their villa at Sandals Emerald Bay in the Bahamas. They owned a Tennessee travel agency - specialising in Sandals resorts

In her final post last week from Sandals Emerald Bay, Robbie shared sweeping photos of turquoise waters and white sand beaches, writing: “If you want the most beautiful long private beach with clear blue water and you like to hear the waves lapping, see sand dunes and hear the sea gulls talking - this is it! RELAXING.”

The Phillips’ daughter, Kali Hanson, gave a family statement to The Independent on Monday.

“Our hearts are grieving and broken but full of hope,” the family said. “We know our mom and dad are experiencing the fullness of joy in our heavenly Father’s presence. We already miss them terribly.

“Our parents left a legacy of faith in Jesus and generously loved their family and friends. Thank you for respecting our family’s privacy at this time.”

Cause of death

Mr Rolle on Monday said that investigators from the Department of Environmental Health remained onsite at the Sandals property and autopsies were being conducted on the victims.

Samples taken from the deceased were being flown to Philadelphia for testing, he said.

“The pathologist has extracted samples from all of the persons and our forensic scientists have collected those samples for examination,” said Mr Rolle, according to the Nassau Guardian.

“We are actively engaging a lab in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania … to assist us with expediting the toxicological examinations of all of these samples.

“Once those examinations are done, our pathologist would be able to provide us with an official report as to the exact cause of death and help us to determine exactly what has happened.

“Our forensic scientists have also collected samples from both of the rooms and the properties of the Sandals hotel in Exuma to determine whether or not any contaminants are present.”

While authorities have offered no theories as to the cause of death, they have ruled out foul play – and other guests and relatives have pointed to the air conditioning system as the possible culprit.

”When they got to the hotel, the air conditioner wasn’t working,” Mrs Chiarella’s brother told DailyMail.com. ”They [staff] were working on it every day.”

Another guest at Sandals Emerald Bay also pointed to the air conditioning, writing on Facebook that it “sounds like it may have been a fault with the a/c.

“It was hard to sleep last night – every time the a/c came on, I woke up,” Chris Coucheron-Aamot wrote, according to the New York Post.

Air conditioners utilise toxic coolants – often Freon – which are odorless but can be deadly if inhaled for prolonged periods of time.

Separately, guests at Sandals Emerald Bay had complained about a strong odor of insecticide at the resort and RBPF have been informed, NBC reported.

Preliminary test results were expected within seven days, Mr Rolle said, but final reports could take weeks.

In the meantime, US officials in the Bahamas said they were liaising with family members of the victims and had been in close contact with the relatives since Friday.

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