At first, Victor Day thought his girlfriend on vacation in Mexico City had been drugged.
Kandace Florence, 28, was vomiting and crying when she FaceTimed him from her Airbnb in the Cuajimalpa district of the Mexican capital in the early morning hours of Oct. 30. Day was at home in Washington D.C.
He dozed off as they FaceTimed. It was 5 a.m. in D.C. When he woke up the next day, he called and texted her over and over to make sure she had recovered. He never heard back. Florence was found dead the next day of carbon monoxide poisoning along with her friends Jordan Marshall and Courtez Hall, whom she was traveling with.
“Why didn’t the monitors work? What was the source of the leak?” Day said in an interview with The Times. “I’m not sure I could have done more, I just feel like I could have. I feel like I failed my girlfriend.”
The State Department and Airbnb on Thursday confirmed the deaths of the three Americans, and a spokesman for the Mexico City Atty. Gen. told The Times that they were investigating the Airbnb host for involuntary homicide.
The deaths come as Mexico City becomes an increasingly popular destination for American tourists and the number of Airbnbs for rent has skyrocketed.
“You just don’t prepare yourself for what could go wrong,” said Freida Florence, mother of Kandace Florence.
Florence should have been celebrating her 29th birthday Thursday, but instead her remains were in Richmond, Va., on their way to a funeral home in her home state.
“The fact that she was in a foreign country and I couldn’t get to her. It was overwhelming,” Florence said.
Kandace Florence, Marshall and Hall planned their trip to Mexico City to celebrate Día de los Muertos. Marshall posted a photo of himself with Florence on Instagram on Oct. 29 of the two dressed up and in makeup for the holiday.
“He was a free spirit. He loved to have fun,” said Marshall’s mother, Jennifer Marshall.
Marshall was a high school English teacher in New Orleans who was passionate about childhood literacy, but he also ran a travel consulting company called Le Flâneur Noir that helped people book personalized trips around the world.
He traveled the globe — from Iceland to Morocco, which he visited with Florence. The two grew up together in Virginia Beach. Florence worked in retail, but had started a candle company called Glo Through It. Hall was also an educator in New Orleans.
It was Marshall’s second trip to Mexico City in October.
“He had so much fun in Mexico City the first time and he wanted to go back,” his mother said.
But the second night in their Airbnb, the invisible disaster struck.
Florence texted Day when the trio arrived back at the Airbnb saying she felt nauseous and as if she’d been drugged. When Day said someone might have slipped something in her drink, Florence said that they had not gone anywhere crowded where someone could have done that.
After texting a bit she FaceTimed him.
“She’s clearly going through it. She’s crying, vomiting. It looked like she was just in a terrible state,” he said. “I, at that moment, it’s five in the morning. I dozed off.”
When Day woke up an hour later he was still on the FaceTime call, but Florence’s phone camera was pointed toward the ground and she did not respond to him when he called her name repeatedly
“I got no response and so I thought to myself, maybe it’s nothing. Maybe she’ll vomit whatever it is out and sleep it off and in the morning she’ll call me and tell me some crazy story,” he said.
But the next morning she didn’t respond to his texts or his calls. Marshall didn’t respond to his Instagram messages either.
“I started to panic,” Day said.
He found the Airbnb link and got in contact with the host, who sent security to do a wellness check on the group. They were found unresponsive without vital signs, the host informed Day. Later that day she told him all three were dead.
The death left Day and the families of the victims reeling and wondering if anything more could have been done to save the victims.
A spokeswoman for Airbnb did not say whether carbon monoxide monitors were required in rentals, but told The Times that the company has a “global detector program” that has given out 200,000 free detectors to hosts across the world.
“We encourage all hosts to confirm that they have a smoke and CO detector installed, and homes that report having a detector are clearly marked, so this information is visible to guests,” said Airbnb spokeswoman Elle Wye.
But Day told The Times that the listing for the Airbnb said that the home had two carbon monoxide monitors.
“Suite with Terrace/Panoramic views,” reads a screenshot of the listing shared with The Times. Airbnb suspended the listing and canceled upcoming trips to the apartment, Wye told The Times.
The listing featured a photo of a high-rise apartment’s terrace with sweeping views of the city below.
Last month, city officials partnered with Airbnb in an effort to lure more remote workers from other countries to Mexico’s capital. The deal sparked widespread backlash in a metropolis where rising rents and inflation have pushed many people out.
The Airbnb apartment where the tourists were staying is in Cuajimalpa, a middle-class neighborhood on the western outskirts of the city. It borders the business district of Santa Fe, one of the city’s wealthiest enclaves.
Deaths from gas leaks from appliances are common across Mexico, and have been linked to tourist deaths in the past.
An explosion sparked by a gas leak killed two people and injured 18 in the tourist town of Playa del Carmen in March, and in 2018, a family of four from Iowa was killed by gas poisoning in a condominium in a resort town an hour from Cancun.
While Day wishes he had done more to save his girlfriend, he says blame lies at the feet of Airbnb and the host of the listing.
“It’s both. They’re both responsible. Airbnb has had this happen to them before. No family should have to go through this. No one should have to go on vacation worrying about carbon monoxide poisoning especially if Airbnb backs the safety of all their listings. And the host is responsible too because it’s their place. They should be maintaining these monitors,” he said.
“Some very young bright souls passed … because of complacency.”