Peace Corps director Aaron Williams, who for months had declined to be interviewed by ABC News about the murder of Peace Corps volunteer Kate Puzey, issued a formal apology to the Puzey family after Friday's three-part "20/20" report on Puzey's death and the Peace Corps response.
In a statement posted on the Peace Corps website Friday, Williams said that he grieved with the Puzey family and extended an apology to them.
"I would like to offer my apologies to the Puzey family if either the former leadership or the agency under my direction could have been more compassionate," wrote Williams. "Personally, it is heartbreaking to learn that they ever felt abandoned by the Peace Corps. This has never been our intent."
"Kate represented the best America has to offer the world with her dedication to her community and commitment to public service," said Williams. "We continue to grieve with the Puzey family and Kate's friends."
Puzey died in Benin in 2009 shortly after she urged her country director to terminate the contract of a Peace Corps employee that she knew, according to her family and friends, had raped students and the school where she taught. Puzey was found with her throat slit and the Peace Corps employee, Constant Bio, is being held as the prime suspect in her murder.
Puzey's family told ABC News they felt the Peace Corps had helped cause her death because her suggestion that Bio be fired was not kept secret. The family also said the Peace Corps was not supportive or helpful in the months after her death as they tried to find out what happened to Kate .
In his statement, Williams said that the ABC News report was "deeply troubling and does not accurately reflect Peace Corps' unwavering commitment to our volunteers."
"The health and safety of our volunteers is the single most important priority for our agency," said Williams.
Peace Corps Director: Agency Has Implemented Reforms
Williams also said he had implemented reforms to enhance the health and safety of volunteers, but said he could not comment on the Puzey murder because of the criminal investigation in Benin, which is not yet complete.
"We cannot comment on the ongoing investigation into the 2009 murder of volunteer Kate Puzey in Benin or do anything else that could risk compromising that investigation or the possibility of a successful prosecution," said Williams.
Williams declined repeated requests to be interviewed for the ABC News report. Deputy Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet sat for an interview, but she too would not answer questions about the circumstances of Puzey's death, citing the criminal investigation.
In a statement issued prior to the 20/20 broadcast, the Peace Corps underlined its refusal to speak about the details of the case. "The Peace Corps has made it clear," said the statement, "that, in the interest of justice for Kate Puzey and her family, we will not comment on the ongoing investigation."
Peace Corps Director Lauds Assaulted Women's Courage
As part of the ABC News report, Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross also talked to a half dozen female volunteers who said that after they were sexually assaulted the Peace Corps response was incompetent and insensitive. In his statement, Williams lauded the courage and strength of the women who spoke about sexual assaults, and said their stories were "heartbreaking."
"Since their service," said Williams, "Peace Corps has improved sexual assault prevention procedures and practices, and we will continue to be responsive to the victims of assault and provide comprehensive care."
"We will never be able to eliminate volunteers' exposure to crimes overseas, but we will work continuously to maximize the safety and health systems supporting our volunteers. This is my pledge to Americans serving today and to the volunteers of tomorrow."
But on-line criticism of the Peace Corps after the ABC News report included the tweeted observation by Windowfog that Williams had not extended an apology to the six survivors of sexual assault who were interviewed by Brian Ross.
"Nowhere in either Peace Corps letter or statement did they apologize to the rape victims who felt abandoned, ignored or suppressed," wrote Windowfog.
ABC News' Lee Ferran contributed to this report.