Philippines Investigation

Foul Play Is Suspected in Va. Woman's Death

By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 19, 2007

Law enforcement officials in the Philippines have opened a criminal investigation into the death of a 40-year-old Peace Corps volunteer who disappeared while hiking alone in a mountainous region of the islands, her family in Fairfax said yesterday.

Julia Campbell, a Virginia native and former freelance journalist whose volunteer work for the Red Cross after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks moved her to join the Peace Corps, was last heard from April 8 while sightseeing in the 2,000-year-old rice terraces of Banaue.

Soldiers found her body Wednesday in a shallow grave, the Associated Press reported from Manila. Sean McCormack, a spokesman for the State Department, said yesterday during the daily briefing that the cause of her death was undetermined.

"They're treating it as a criminal investigation, and that's all we know," said Geary Morris of Falls Church, Campbell's older sister. Peace Corps officials informed the family of the investigation, she said. A Peace Corps representative could not be reached for comment. The Associated Press reported that police suspect foul play.

Campbell's family described her as a spunky, bright woman who was enthusiastic for adventure and committed to community service. Her work sometimes put her in dicey situations, and she recently contributed to CNN's coverage of a typhoon in the Philippines' Albay Province. She left a well-paying job and an apartment in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y., to join the Peace Corps, hoping to combine her wanderlust with public service.

"She was always looking forward to the places her assignments took her, even when they were shady places," said Ann Knight, an aunt who lives in Pensacola, Fla.

Morris said her sister's bold example had inspired her to begin Spanish classes and volunteer to join an upcoming mission to the Dominican Republic with her church, which she told Campbell about in her last e-mail to her March 26.

"I said, 'I just want you to know what an inspiration you are to me,' " Morris recalled yesterday.

Over the years, Campbell had worked for several newspapers, including the St. Petersburg Times, and freelanced for the New York Times, People magazine,, and Star magazine.

In the Philippines, she worked with a local school in Donsol, a province of Sorsogon, helped open an ecology center focused on wildlife there and created a campaign called "A Book and Buck" that rounded up donated books in the United States and money to ship them to the islands. Recently, she was working as an English teacher at the Divine Word College in Legazpi city until the semester's end in March.

She was traveling with a female Peace Corps friend in Baguio and Sagada before breaking off on her own. She had reservations at the Village Inn in Batad, including an appointment for a massage, but the reservations were not kept. She was reported missing a week ago Tuesday, when she failed to return to Manila for a scheduled meeting.

Morris said her sister had been planning to return to the States to take graduate courses in public administration at New York University and had hoped to travel around Asia with friends before coming home.

Campbell's parents, retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Ron Campbell and Linda Campbell, met her for a visit in Hawaii in January, and they toured parts of Asia, including Vietnam, where her father had been an aviator, Morris said. Her younger brother, Bill, who lives in Arlington, works for the National Academy of Sciences and attends law school at George Washington University.

Campbell attended Woodson High School, where she ran track and cross-country. She earned a bachelor's degree in English at James Madison University and got her start in journalism with a summer internship with the Connection newspapers in Fairfax, her family said. "We're just so grateful she's been found," Morris said. "She leaves such a legacy. If there's any saving grace about this, she's left this world better than she found it."

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