What happens when an American is killed overseas

Bakari Henderson (Family Photos)
Bakari Henderson (Family Photos)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin 22-year-old who was beaten to death on a Greek island early Friday morning was at least the eighth American killed in the country since late 2002, according to U.S. State Department online records.

Those records show 126 Americans in total died in Greece between October 2002 and December 2016, the dates the data are available. Many of the deaths are attributed to drowning, car crashes and suicide. Seven are listed as homicides and one is “under investigation.”

But no matter the cause of death, when a U.S. citizen dies abroad, government officials here have work to do.

The process of working with foreign governments investigating homicides and bringing the victim’s family closure falls almost entirely to the federal government, specifically the Bureau of Consular Affairs, a division of the Department of State.

KXAN spoke to Floyd Cable Friday afternoon to learn more about that process. “Such a sad situation,” he said of Friday’s news.

Cable is a State Department employee and the Diplomat in Residence for Texas, stationed at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT. He’s worked in the foreign service for decades and has dealt personally with overseas deaths.

The diplomat said when an American dies abroad Consular Affairs, which provides a range of citizen services to people overseas, “will work closely with whichever embassy or consulate is working on the case.”

But the U.S. won’t usually investigate; that’s left to the local authorities. Instead, the State Department remains informed of what’s happening with the investigation and acts as a liaison between the family and the foreign government, “relay[ing] information” back and forth,” Cable said.

One of the department’s main duties is coordinating the local burial or return of remains to the U.S.

The agency doesn’t provide any money for families, but it helps them navigate local and international regulations. Logistical and regulatory requirements can vary “tremendously” between countries, he said.

That’s where Texas might come in — receiving the remains. But states won’t typically play any international role.

“Our main focus,” Cable said, “is support of the family to help them deal with what’s happened and to make sure the family has what they need.”

If anyone is concerned about a family member abroad or just needs to make contact, the Bureau of Consular Affairs can help with that, too.

Currently there are no State Department travel warnings or alerts for Greece, but Cable recommended travelers check this site before going overseas.

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