American Student and Former Marine Catherine Serou Found Brutally Murdered in Russia
Catherine Serou / screenshot / VK
MOSCOW - The U.S. Marines trained Catherine Serou to survive in combat, and she did it during the war in Afghanistan. The 1.80 meter tall blonde was sporty, hardworking, intellectual, artist, photographer and studied law at a Russian university. But she did not survive a drive in a sleepy Russian provincial town of Bor in the Nizhny Novgorod region: after her disappearance on Tuesday, her body was found in the forest over the weekend. The driver of the car, 43-year-old Aleksey Popov, is charged with her murder.
Serou went missing on the eve of a summit meeting between President Biden and President Vladimir Putin. The fate of two other former U.S. Marines incarcerated in Russia was discussed at the meeting, adding a touch of politics to the time of her disappearance and hope that she is still alive and in custody. Instead, it was a crime story. Shortly before the tragedy, Serou told her mother that she had decided to stay and live in Russia. "She enjoyed Nizhny Novgorod so much, she loved her life with a Russian family, her friends at university," her mother Becci Serou told The Daily Beast in a telephone interview.
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Becci Serou expected her daughter to call on Tuesday. They should work together to create a website for Catherine's business teaching English. But after 7 p.m. Moscow time, Becci could no longer reach her daughter by phone. “I was in my own class and I found a message from Catherine that said, 'In a car with a stranger. I hope I am not kidnapped, ”said Becci. “I realized she had sent me this note 40 minutes before I found it. I tried to reach her but her phone was off. The police later found her phone in the woods near the town of Bor. "
That day, Catherine visited a beauty salon in downtown Nizhny Novgorod and then returned to her room in a rented apartment in the small Soviet factory town of Bor on the other side of the Volga. "I couldn't sleep for three nights thinking if she would get away from him - she's a strong athlete trained to survive," the mother told The Daily Beast in an interview before police discovered Catherine's grim fate.
Thousands of kilometers away from her daughter, Becci tried to reconstruct what had happened to her child in the former secret Soviet city. “The salon apparently called her complaining that the payment wasn't in, so she rushed back, but Uber didn't come for good. Catherine is extremely careful; and this stranger must have seen her on the corner of her house, "the mother told the Daily Beast. "I speak to the FBI, the State Department, the Moscow Embassy and Russian investigators who have been very helpful."
Over 100 police officers and National Guard units spent three days looking for Catherine all over the Bor Forest. Fortunately, a surveillance camera near the local railroad had captured a picture of Popov's car. Serou's alleged killer, who had previously been charged with rape of another woman, showed police the student's body in the bushes on Friday. Catherine had multiple stab wounds. "Our city has a shameful history on the international news," a local school teacher, Vladimir Khrykov, told The Daily Beast, expressing his condolences for the American student. "Sorry, she was so unlucky to meet this Bor criminal."
Just a few months ago, a 9-year-old girl and a 46-year-old woman were murdered not far from the place where Sorou was murdered and Bor was once again in the news for violence. Local Communist Party leader Aleksey Zorov blamed the authorities for Sorou's murder. “Our society is humiliating, criminals feel unpunished, murderers come out of prison after 6-7 years and commit crimes again; The man who raped and killed the American student should face the death penalty, ”Zorov said in an interview with The Daily Beast on Friday.
Serous university advisor and professor Liliya Yerushkina was "terribly sad" after talking to a police investigator on Friday. "This is so hard when our children get hurt, it must be terribly painful for other students who knew Catherine," she told The Daily Beast. Yerushkina translated Becci Serou's phone calls to the police in the hopes that there would be good news for three long days, but they never came.
Serou was one of two US students among around 1,700 foreign students from more than 100 countries studying at Nizhny Novogorod State Lobachevsky University. Admissions chief Yerushkina remembered Serou from her early days at the university. She remembered how hard it was for the student to learn the language and law school in Russian. That was Catherine's second Masters course. A few years ago she completed her Masters in Art History from the University of California, Davis. She grew up in New Orleans where she had some Russian friends. "Catherine has always been a big fan of Russian art, she also woven scarves and sold them at a kiosk in Nizhny Novgorod," says Serou's mother.
Recently, Yerushkina held a seminar on European law and international human rights for foreign and Russian students. She remembered her American student Serou, who made her proud and gave well-articulated answers in Russian. “Catherine was a very hardworking and talented student, she had big plans for the future, planned to move to the philological faculty; She applied for her next educational program and received Russian government funding, ”Yerushkina told The Daily Beast. "We don't yet know why Catherine left home that night and who she was with."
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