Dominican Republic officials asked multiple times if Dawn McCoy wanted her husband cremated, but she always said no -- 'I wanted to make sure it was him coming home'

By Elaine Aradillas
June 17, 2019 02:32 PM

A Maryland woman whose husband died while on vacation at a resort in the Dominican Republic says officials “recommended” she cremate him before returning his body to the United States last year, she tells PEOPLE.

Dawn McCoy’s husband David Harrison and son David Jr. traveled to the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on July 4, 2018. McCoy arrived a few days later and her husband was already beginning to feel ill, she recalls.

Within days, Harrison told his wife he wasn’t going to drink and he wanted to rest. His stomach was upset and a pungent odor began seeping through his pores, she recalls. On July 14, he woke up in a full-body sweat and couldn’t move or speak. He died hours later.

As she tried to process her grief, she knew she needed to get her son home and try to figure out how she was going to get her husband’s body back. But first she needed to pay.

“The hotel asked me to call them when I was on my way out and that they would meet me personally, so I called them and told them that we were getting ready to check out,” she says. “They pulled me aside and handed me a doctor bill.”

Credit: GoFundMe

Before she could leave the resort, she says, she had to pay multiple bills — the hotel doctor, the ambulance, the hospital, the funeral home and more.

“They kept trying to get me to cremate my husband. They kept telling me that it would be considerably cheaper to cremate him. I want to say they asked me probably three or four times before they sent him home,” she recalls. “I was like, ‘No, no, no.’ Send him home. I want to make sure it’s him that’s coming home.”

On July 24, 10 days after Harrison died, he was returned home and cremated at a Maryland funeral home.

The U.S. State Department has confirmed that at least six American tourists have died while vacationing in the Dominican Republic since the summer of 2018.dSome of them passed away in what appear to be bizarre — and similar — circumstances. PEOPLE confirms that both the FBI and the CDC are investigating these strange deaths, but the agencies are not yet releasing further details.

In addition to the six confirmed by the State Department, Staten Island resident Leyla Cox was found dead in her room last Monday from an apparent heart attack. She had just celebrated her 53rd birthday.

Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.

Her son, 25-year-old Will Cox, told Fox News that Dominican officials are “pressuring” him to have his mother cremated.

“They put me against a wall,” Cox said, referring to Dominican authorities, in a telephone interview with Fox News. “The Dominicans said that I had to sign papers giving them permission to take her to a funeral home, and if I didn’t do that in four hours, they were going to consider her a ‘Jane Doe.’ They said I had to give them permission to cremate her or embalm her, or I would never get my mother back.”

“If they classified my mother as a Jane Doe, they told me I would be forfeiting the body,” Cox told Fox News. “I will never receive a death certificate. I will never receive my mother’s remains….They did conduct an autopsy, but they will not tell me what it says.”

While his mother’s body remains at a funeral home in Santo Domingo, he tells Fox News he must decide today whether to cremate or embalm her. “That extension, Cox said, was granted after his congressional representatives and the U.S. Embassy negotiated with the Dominican government,” according to Fox News.