Friends: Englishwoman's death in Guatemala seems accidental

Friends who were with an Englishwoman found dead near a Guatemalan highland lake in her final days recall her as a deeply spiritual person who spread joy to others, and say numerous details of the case suggest to them that it was an accident

SAN JUAN LA LAGUNA, Guatemala -- Friends who were with an Englishwoman found dead near a Guatemalan highland lake in her final days recall her as a spiritual person who spread joy to others, and said numerous details of the case suggest to them that it was an accident.

Those who helped search for Catherine Shaw, 23, of Witney, England, said several things didn't seem to square with possible foul play, such as that her sweater was found near the body carefully folded with her rings inside. Also found nearby was the puppy she adopted as a sidekick the day she arrived in San Juan La Laguna.

Now they're looking for someone else to take care of the small dog, which they've named "Cat," after Shaw's nickname.

"She was like a fairy who went around spreading happiness," said Elena Consolini, describing Shaw as relaxed and without conflicts.

"I thought she seemed a bit sad the last days, but we didn't talk much," Consolini added. "We just played music, without speaking."

She was among the two dozen or so people who gathered to say a final goodbye to Shaw on Tuesday evening, lighting 23 candles — one for each year Shaw spent on Earth.

Later, around a campfire on a hotel terrace, they told stories about their time with her. As the night advanced they held hands, sang, took a group photo and said, in unison, "See you later, Cat!"

The informal wake took place a day after Shaw's unclothed body was found in the shrubs near a mountain overlook above Lake Atitlan, found four days after she was reported missing.

An autopsy found she died of hemorrhaging from traumatic brain injury. Authorities have not said what may have caused that, though the doctor who carried out the procedure told The Associated Press the body had no gunshot or stab wounds.

The woman's father, Tarquin Shaw, identified her body Tuesday at a morgue about 30 miles (50 kilometers) away in the city of Quetzaltenango. He later visited the MayAchik hotel, a thatched-roof eco-lodge where she had been staying up the slope from the lake in San Juan La Laguna.

Escorted by police, Shaw did not want to speak to reporters but told AP he was grateful to those who searched for his daughter and for the support of the Lucie Blackman Trust, which has been assisting the family.

Catherine Shaw had arrived early last week at the hotel where she struck a deal with management to do volunteer work in exchange for lodging. She roomed with Consolini, an Italian who is the last known person to see Shaw alive and was the one who reported her missing last Thursday.

"They didn't pay any attention. The police just said she would appear — 'Go looking for her, she must be around somewhere,'" Consolini said.

She and others spent two days asking whomever they could to help, but it wasn't until Saturday a serious search was launched. Shaw's friends collected money to pay for a helicopter to fly over the area, and local Tzutujil indigenous residents, foreign tourists and some police officers scoured the mountainous terrain.

Finally Shaw's body was located Monday afternoon around the overlook of Indian Nose, a mountain formation that from a distance looks like the face of someone lying down. The uninhabited area has some walkable trails and other parts can only be climbed, said Johanna Rodriguez, who took part in the search.

Shaw's friends were eager to counter rumors on social media of purported drug use, sexual assault or the possibility she was responsible for her own death. Those unsupported accounts, plus a grisly photo of the body that circulated online, gave an inaccurate portrait of who Shaw was, they said.

"She had a free spirit," said Francisco "Paco" Rosales, a Mexican who said he met Shaw four years ago and traveled with her in several countries. "She was very spiritual. She liked to meditate. She was a master of Reiki and yoga."

Atitlan is popular among travelers seeking a connection with nature, and Rosales, who traveled from Mexico to join the search, said Shaw had left the hotel to see the sunrise. The Indian Nose overlook affords a dramatic, east-facing view of the lake and the mountains that ring it.

Amy Farrow, a U.S. paramedic who has been living in the area for several years and helped coordinate the search, said she had reviewed security camera video of Shaw from the day she was last seen. Shaw was captured leaving her room last Tuesday at 1:30 a.m. carrying a drum with her, and again around 5 a.m.

"She did not seem intoxicated," Farrow said. "She was acting normal."

The autopsy estimated the time of death at four to six days earlier, roughly coinciding with her disappearance.

While authorities have yet to say why Shaw died, Rosales thinks he knows what happened: She hiked to the place alone and took off her clothes due to the heat, before falling to her death. In Shaw's circle, being nude in an unpopulated place because of warm temperatures or while meditating wouldn't be considered odd.

"Many people had morbid thoughts from the photograph of her unclothed at the scene, quickly saying that she had been raped," Rosales said. "But she saw the body as something natural ... that's why it's easy to believe that she undressed."

Rosales and others said Shaw had been in a period of fasting and reflection and had not eaten or even drunk water for four days before she went missing. They speculated that weakened state could have led her to fall.

The Lucie Blackman Trust has also said it believes Shaw's death to be a "tragic accident," while not ruling anything out for now.

Her family said Tuesday that she "just loved mountains and sunrises" and "died doing what she loved."