Group of American Teens Fall Ill at Same Dominican Republic Resort Where 2 Have Died

By Isabel van Brugen

A group of American teens and their parents became unwell while vacationing in the Dominican Republic for a graduation trip in early June, and some are still feeling the effects of the illnesses.

A group of at least 40 graduating seniors from Deer Creek High School in Oklahoma, as well as some parents, traveled for a senior trip to the Caribbean hotspot on June 8, and stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Punta Cana.

Mother Liz McLaughlin told News 6 her daughter Libby was one of the seven graduates who reportedly fell ill after eating at the resort’s Japanese restaurant, where two Americans have died in the past year.

McCaughlin told KOTV she wasn’t certain what caused the illness.

“We just don’t know what was happening,” she said. “Is it the water? Is it the ice? Is it the food? Is it the food handling? Is it the pesticides? We have no idea what’s going on.”

Another senior, Bennet Hill, told KOCO-TV he became ill after eating dinner at the same restaurant.

“I just woke up, and my stomach was cramping and I was sweating. I was freezing,” he told the news station.

He explained how he and six others in the group were rushed to hospital for treatment after experiencing similar symptoms.

“We’ve been hooked up to IVs since we first got here with antibiotics, just getting hydrated, anti-nausea medicine, all this stuff because we were just so dehydrated,” he said.

Deer Creek Public Schools Superintendent Ranet Tippens told The Oklahoman she was aware of what happened, estimating the total size of the group to be around 75.

“The one parent that I had spoken to said that … the majority did just fine and those that became ill ate at the same restaurant,” she said.

A Hard Rock Hotel & Casino spokesperson said that it “took corrective action” after the graduates fell ill.

“Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana is disappointed regarding a recent situation in which a group of guests became ill after dining at one of our 12 venues,” the resort said in a statement obtained by the New York Post.

“As the safety and health of our guests is now, and has always been our highest priority, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana is regretful that we did not achieve the extremely high standards we set for ourselves.”

Dominican Republic Deaths

The reports of illness come as at least 12 Americans have died under suspicious circumstances in the Dominican Republic in the last 12 months.

Tourists Robert Bell Wallace, 67, of California and David Harrison of Maryland, both died at the same resort as the group of teens. Family said Wallace died almost immediately after he drank from the hotel’s minibar and his niece said he had been in relatively good health before doing so.

“He started feeling very sick, he had blood in his urine and stool right afterward,” his niece, Chloe Arnold, told Fox News.

A doctor has said that the symptoms reported in the tourists who mysteriously died in the Dominican Republic are “consistent with poisoning.”

Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Tom Inglesby, told The New York Times that reported symptoms such as pulmonary edema, bleeding, and vomiting blood could point to poisoning, even if accidental.

He added that it is still difficult to pinpoint exactly what caused the deaths of the tourists, and the exact reason will only be known when toxicology reports are available.

Hard Rock Hotels & Casinos announced in a statement on June 11, that it was “deeply saddened by these two unfortunate incidents, and we extend our sincerest sympathy to the families of Mr. Harrison and Mr. Wallace.”

The FBI and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are investigating the causes of the deaths.