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Crime Explainers

5 Things to Know About the Mysterious Deaths of an American-Canadian Couple in Belize

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A days-long search in Belize for a missing American-Canadian couple ended tragically Monday afternoon when their bodies were reportedly found strangled to death in a remote area near the southeastern tip of Mexico.

The killings made international headlines, as friends and families of Drew DeVournsey and Francesca Matus, his girlfriend, mourned their deaths and pushed for answers about what happened to them.

Here are five things to know about the ongoing case.

1. American Victim Was a Veteran Who Enlisted in Marines After 9/11

DeVoursney’s mother, Char DeVoursney, had a nickname for him, she told PEOPLE: “I always called him ‘my adventure boy.’ ”

“He just kept pursuing the next thing he wanted to do and he was really good at it,” she said.

Drew, 36, was born in Georgia but grew up in Nashville, Tennessee — the son of a singer-songwriter dad — and he attended college in North Carolina on a soccer and academic scholarship, Char said. But after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he dropped out and enlisted as a Marine, ultimately serving two tours in Iraq before working for two years as a contractor, in Afghanistan.

Until his death, David was often on the move, back and forth across and outside the U.S., his mom said. “He wasn’t going to stay still somewhere.”

He bought four acres of land in Belize about four years ago, as an investment, and had been to the Central American country multiple times before moving there in December.

Drew DeVoursney
GoFundMe

2. Canadian Vicim ‘Such a Beautiful Person,’ Mom of Two

Those who knew Matus, a 52-year-old native of Ontario, Canada, mourned her on Facebook. One person wrote, “Her smile was infectious and could light up a room. She had such a zest for life and will be deeply missed.”

Another echoed that sentiment, writing, “May your free spirit live in those you left behind.”

“Woke up this morning with the gut wrenching realization that this isn’t a bad dream,” her cousin Ivana Pucci wrote. “You are so very loved and I promise we will find out who did this to you.”

“She loved it [in Belize] and felt safe,” Pucci told The Canadian Press. “She did tell us it was lawless there, but she felt safe in her little community.” (PEOPLE’s efforts to reach Matus’ friends and family were unsuccessful.)

Pucci said Matus has two adult sons, twins, who are 22 years old. She grew up in a large Italian-Canadian family and worked part of the year in Toronto as a mortgage broker.

“She was 52 in a 35-year-old body,” Pucci said. “She really was such a beautiful person — both inside and out — and she did not deserve this. Nobody does.”

Francesca Matus
Source: Francesca Matus/Facebook

3. Their Last Moments Seen Alive

According to Drew’s mother and multiple news reports, he and Matus were last seen alive late on April 25, leaving a local bar in Belize’s Corozal District, where they both lived.

Drew had met Matus about two or three months ago, Char told PEOPLE. The day after she went missing, Matus was planning to return to Toronto and Drew planned to return to Georgia in May to join his younger brother, David, at a trade school in the Atlanta area. He was going to learn how to operate heavy equipment.

On the day he disappeared, Drew was going to buy his plane ticket, Char said. She last spoke to him two weeks ago. He told her he was coming home.

He and Matus were reported missing on Wednesday when a friend arrived at her home in Corozal to take them to the airport for her flight. But the friend couldn’t find the couple.

4. Couple Was Strangled and Hands Were Duct-Taped

On Monday afternoon, Drew’s and Matus’ bodies were reportedly discovered in the village of Chan Chen in the Corozal District.

Char said the couple’s hands had been duct-taped and that she was told they were killed and left in a somewhat remote area. Their vehicle was found in good condition about 10 miles away.

Char said she has been in touch daily with the U.S. Embassy, who has been providing limited information from Belize police as the investigation continues.

“They said they were murdered,” she said.

Drew DeVoursney
GoFundMe

According to The Canadian Press, Breaking Belize News and News 5 Live, a Belize TV station, Drew and Matus were strangled and their bodies were discovered “in an advanced state of decomposition.”

Their deaths are being investigated as homicides, the Press reported. (Belize police did not return multiple messages seeking comment.)

Char said David, Drew’s brother — a military veteran himself — has headed to Belize to retrieve his body as funeral details are pending. A GoFundMe page was created to help cover expenses associated with her death, Char said.

“[I’ve] been through so much with both of them doing so many tours in Afghanistan and Iraq — and then going through all that, he [Drew] always stayed in touch,” Char said. “So when he wasn’t in touch with this happening, we knew something was really weird.”

“You can imagine me worrying about him doing the military thing,” she continued. “This was much more worrisome, going through this process of not knowing.”

5. Belize Local Reacts: ‘Very Shocking’

One local in Corozal Town, the district’s capital, told PEOPLE on Tuesday, “Our community is devastated like so many people all over the world. What else can I say? Corozal is a very small town where the people are one, especially during times like this.”

“This is very shocking, because this is a peaceful place and we hardly every hear of this kind of killing,” said the local, who asked not to be identified by name.

According to the U.S. State Department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council, the Corozal District — which is relatively sparsely populated and smaller than Rhode Island — had seven reported murders in 2016, the second-lowest rate among the country’s six districts and one-tenth of the highest rate.

For comparison, there were 335 reported murders in New York City in 2016, according to the city’s statistics, or about four per 100,000 residents, a lower rate than in Corozal.

“There is no indication that foreigners are broadly targeted,” according to a 2017 OSAC guide on crime and safety in Belize, and “a significant portion” of the country’s murders are due to domestic violence. However, the guide advises caution in less urban areas.

Meanwhile, the investigation into the deaths of Drew and Matus continues. Drew’s best friend, Brandon Barfield, wrote on the GoFundMe this week about their pursuit for answers.

He described Tuesday, the day after learning Drew was dead and the same day David landed in Belize, as “day 1 of justice.”