What happened to Carolina?

One night out, two years with no answers

Aspiring sports broadcaster Carolina Lewis had her whole life ahead of her, and then she was gone. For two years, her family has kept her story close, hoping for justice. But their pleas for a better investigation into Carolina’s death are yet to be answered.

You can listen to this story as a podcast. Hit the play button below, or find The Long Read via podcast apps like Apple PodcastsSpotify or Google Podcasts.

The man who woke up next to Carolina Lewis that morning didn’t notice she was dead. When his alarm went off at 8am, Glenn Gibson, a 37-year-old policeman-turned-nightclub promoter, got up, got dressed, and went downstairs to move his car. He was too late. He already had a ticket. Gibson moved the black Mercedes anyway, and then took the lift back upstairs to room 916 of the Liaison Washington Capitol Hill Hotel, where Carolina lay face down, not breathing, in the middle of the bed. 

Gibson tried to wake the 23-year-old journalism graduate, he later told police, but she wouldn’t respond. When he rolled her over from her stomach to her back, her face was blue. Gibson said he then called the front desk and asked the clerk to dial 911, and waited. When medics arrived, they reported no signs of life. Carolina was pronounced dead at 8.22am on September 16, 2019. Her body revealed no evidence of trauma, medical staff said. The rest of the room also told police very little. Carolina’s black high heels were on the floor. Her small tan purse was next to a television, with her credit cards, drivers licence and her make up inside. There was no indication of violence to be seen.

Carolina Lewis, right, with her father David, younger sister Jade and mum Rosaria.

Carolina Lewis, right, with her father David, younger sister Jade and mum Rosaria.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for the District of Columbia later found Carolina had died from the combined toxic effects of ethanol and fentanyl, a synthetic opioid used to lace fake oxycontin pills. Detectives investigating the case interviewed several witnesses, and pulled phone records, but never found where Carolina got the drug. No charges were laid. Gibson went back to promoting nightclubs on Instagram later that week. A year later, the police file was closed.

Officially, Carolina’s case was ruled an accident. But her family, and the small group of supporters and advocates who know what really happened that night, say her death should be seen as a crime.

“There are too many questionable people involved, and far too many unusual events that occurred the night  Carolina died for us to accept her death was accidental,” Carolina’s father David Lewis, wrote in an appeal to the Washington DC police in April this year. 

Lewis said police had failed to follow leads, and that a far more thorough investigation was warranted.

“Where is the empathy for our family? Losing a daughter under any circumstances is devastating. This death has turned my family’s lives upside down and not … seeing any progress with the investigation makes our grief even worse,” Lewis wrote.

“That is why I am asking for your help to ensure … that justice is delivered by finding those responsible for Carolina’s death.”

advertisement

Advertise with Stuff

“HER HEART WAS GOLD”

The last time David Lewis saw his daughter Carolina was at the US Open in the second week of September, 2019. Carolina was working at the tennis tournament, helping to organise players. On September 8, Rafael Nadal defeated Daniil Medvedev in the final. David had flown into New York City to watch. 

Tennis runs in the Lewis blood. David was a professional player in New Zealand, and then a coach. His older brother Chris Lewis was the 1983 Wimbledon finalist. Both Carolina and her younger sister, Jade, had been playing since they were children in Auckland’s eastern suburb of Glendowie, and continued after they moved to Hilton Head, South Carolina when the girls were teenagers. 

The Lewis family lived in Auckland when Carolina and Jade were young. They spent hours playing tennis together, competing as doubles partners.

The Lewis family lived in Auckland when Carolina and Jade were young. They spent hours playing tennis together, competing as doubles partners.

“Growing up I always copied Carolina and I always tried to follow what she did, because at the table she was always the funniest. She was always the star of the get-together,” Jade says. The girls spent hours training together and playing doubles in tournaments.

We had a billion fights on the tennis court. One time she launched a ball at my back during doubles. But we were always fine right after. We had a great time together.”
Jade Lewis

While Jade was the stronger player, with a junior ranking of world number 59, Carolina was talented in her own right, gaining a tennis scholarship to West Virginia University, and then to Kansas State.

“I think tennis gave Carol a sense of purpose,” says friend and former Kansas State student Cora McGee. “But she was also incredibly intelligent, and really good at writing.”

McGee says while others would take two hours to do an assignment, Carolina would be done in 30 minutes, and still get good grades. With her beauty, and ability to speak five languages, Carolina should have been intimidating, McGee says.

“But she was so down-to-earth and friendly. Her heart was gold.”

Carolina graduated with a major in Journalism from Kansas State University in 2016. Rosaria and David are pictured here at her graduation ceremony.

Carolina graduated with a major in Journalism from Kansas State University in 2016. Rosaria and David are pictured here at her graduation ceremony.

That summer, Carolina had graduated with a major in journalism, and was planning her next steps. There was no doubt that whatever she chose to do “Carol”, as her friends called her, would be a success.

In New York, at the tennis, Carolina and her dad had dinner. On September 10, Carolina travelled to Washington DC on the Greyhound bus to stay with friends from her time at West Virginia, including her good friend Molly Trujillo.

The timeline pieced together by police shows that on the night of September 15, Carolina, Trujillo, and a group of other girlfriends went to Gryphon bar, in the central city. It was at Gryphon that Carolina met Gibson, whose group of friends knew some of Trujillo’s friends. Gibson told police that’s where he and Carolina exchanged numbers. Around midnight both groups left the club, with the girls getting an uber around the corner to another club, Abigail, where they entered about 20 minutes later.

Once inside Abigail, things began to get messy. Carolina’s message history shows she was approached by a man pretending to be someone else, a guy she’d been out with the night before, and was hoping to see again. She was confused by this, texting the man “there's this guy that keeps pretending to be you” and “it’s weird”. She is seen at the bar talking to two guys with dreadlocks. Around 1am, she loses Trujillo, who wants to leave, because she has work in the morning. Carolina wants to stay to see the guy she likes, but she also wants to find Trujillo. Their texts go back and forth until 1.43am. During this time, Gibson calls Carolina twice, later telling police he was trying to help Trujillo. But they can’t find her.

Then at 1.52am Carolina texts Molly:

Carolina
im coming
Carolina
where r u
Molly
I left

At 1.59am, Carolina is seen on CCTV leaving the club in a tan dress, her long, dark hair hanging down. Behind her is a man in a masquerade mask. The footage, which police eventually recovered from Abigail, shows the man had entered the bar about an hour earlier. He was given a pat down and a bag check, but allowed to wear his mask. He wears dark jeans, a  black shirt with a white logo, and white shoes. He has dreadlocks, and carries a tan satchel. There’s no footage of him inside the bar. The cameras only pick him up again when he leaves with Carolina. As the pair walk by, the security guard gives the masked man a nod and a smile. The man puts his hand on Carolina’s arm, steering her towards a car, and they disappear off screen.

At 2.20am Gibson leaves the club, and calls Carolina again, from the footpath outside. She doesn’t pick up. At 2.23am, she calls him back on Facetime. They speak for 20 seconds. Gibson later tells police she sounded “kind of panicked” and asked if he would come and pick her up because she didn’t want to be where she was. Carolina sends Gibson a pin drop location to Fort Lincoln Drive, about 20 minutes away. Gibson told her he would be 30 minutes, as he planned to talk to his friends on the sidewalk before leaving. But as her text messages grew more insistent, he began to hurry.

Carolina
are you gonna come or no?
Gibson
Yes. You ready?
Carolina
yes
Carolina
u coming or no
Gibson
yes babe I’m driving there now
Carolina
hurry up
Carolina
Plz
Gibson
I’m 12mins away boo
Carolina
okay hurry. bc I don’t like this. at all
Gibson
U ok? Do I need to hurt someone?
Carolina
idk I did oxy.

The messages continue until Gibson arrives, with Carolina growing increasingly frantic. She says it’s scary, that she is scared, because the guys she’s with are fighting. She says she is pretending to be asleep, to avoid them. Gibson admonishes her for taking drugs. “I’m driving faster now,” he says. But when Gibson arrives, he can’t see Carolina. She calls him, trying to find his car in the dark. As she heads out of the apartment and towards his car, her phone rings. An unknown number. Around 3am, she finally finds him, and they drive off.

The pin drop for Gibson to pick Carolina up was right outside these apartments in Fort Lincoln Drive, Washington DC. The Lewis family still don't know exactly which room she was in.

The pin drop for Gibson to pick Carolina up was right outside these apartments in Fort Lincoln Drive, Washington DC. The Lewis family still don't know exactly which room she was in.

Gibson says Carolina tells him one of the men was following her, and that the guys at the apartment tried to have sex with her but she said they “weren’t her type”. After this, they go to McDonald's. She is hungry, she says. Gibson says he’s tired, and wants to book a hotel room. He says Carolina agreed, and asked if he would drop her back to her friend’s home later in the day. He agreed. Gibson books the hotel via an app. They arrive at 3.40am. Footage from the hotel CCTV shows them arriving, Carolina holding her shoes in her hands. At 3.44am, Carolina texts Trujillo to say she had a ride back in the morning. 

In the police file, an officer has written a summary of the hotel footage. “Carolina appears unsteady on her feet at times during the video but remains beside [name redacted] as he checks in.” Carolina is rubbing her nose. She holds on to Gibson. She hugs him, and kisses him. As check-in drags on, Gibson escorts her to a couch in the lobby to wait, where she sits down.

It appears to this investigator that Carolina is intoxicated on some substance, drugs and or alcohol? She does not appear sober.

As the couple head to the room, the police report says Carolina lets go of Gibson’s arm and makes a “demonstrable gesture”. Gibson puts his arm around her shoulder and they walk off camera. Once inside the room, Gibson told police he had a shower. Then he and Carolina had sex. They looked at photos on her phone of her friend, and her recent trip to Italy. They fell asleep about 5am. And Carolina never woke up.

advertisement

Advertise with Stuff

“SHE WAS WEARING A PARTY DRESS”

At first, David Lewis and his wife Rosaria put their faith in the police. During the early months of the investigation, they even tell officers they don’t need to be updated on every detail, that they understand the detectives need to focus on the task at hand. “We remain patient in your professionalism,” David writes to the lead investigator, Christopher MacWilliams, on October 28.

In early November, some progress is made. Police manage to get the CCTV footage of the masked man from Abigail, and publish it on YouTube. They put together a more comprehensive timeline, and attempt to identify others who were in contact with Carolina that night. They interview witnesses, including Molly Trujillo and Glenn Gibson. 

At first, police thought the masked man in the CCTV from Abigail was wearing headphones, or a bandana. They later worked out it was a masquerade mask.

At first, police thought the masked man in the CCTV from Abigail was wearing headphones, or a bandana. They later worked out it was a masquerade mask.

In mid-November the Lewis family feel there is a breakthrough, when police identify where that final call to Carolina’s phone came from, as she was running out of the apartment on Fort Lincoln Drive. The man’s name and almost all the details of the detective's interactions with him are now redacted from the police report, but at the time the family are told who he is: Larry Holt, also a patron of Abigail, who has a criminal history. Holt’s record shows that he was convicted for trafficking a teenage girl in 2016, picking her up in Virginia and taking her to Maryland to sell for sex. He was sentenced to five years in prison, but served less.

“That raised a huge question,” says Derrick Hurley, a friend David Lewis met through an online support group for parents whose children are victims of violence. Hurley, whose daughter was raped by a policeman in Antigua, helped the Lewis family with their appeals to police.

Why is a known human trafficker calling Carolina? How did he have her number? Who gave it to him? We thought they should look into that more.
Derrick Hurley

In January, police received subpoenaed records of Holt’s phone. But they are unable to link him to anyone known to Carolina. They also can’t work out if his phone was in the Fort Lincoln area that night. Holt refuses a police interview, the detectives tell Lewis. “They said, ‘he’s familiar with law enforcement, he wouldn’t talk.’” Holt did not respond to a request to comment for this article.

In March, Detective MacWilliams writes in the police file that he is still in weekly contact with the Lewis family. But as time goes on, the entries in the file grow more sparse. At the family’s insistence, officers request DNA testing from Carolina’s body, attempting to find a link to anyone at the apartment where she took what she seems to have thought was oxycontin. The test comes up blank. In July, MacWilliams retires, after 25 years service. It comes as a surprise to the Lewis family. The New Zealand embassy in Washington send police a letter, requesting the new detective keep them and Carolina’s parents informed.

The new lead investigator is Jonathan Shell. In September, in a meeting with Shell, two other police officers and their lawyer, the Lewis family are told it’s unlikely that charges will be laid. They’re distraught. In particular, they want to know why Carolina’s capacity to consent to sex wasn’t made a focus of the investigation, even if the people who gave her drugs couldn’t be found. The police file states she was clearly intoxicated, they argue. That there were drugs in her system was confirmed by the toxicology report. Her blood alcohol level was extremely high. State law in Columbia says a person can’t consent if they’re incapacitated.

But Shell tells Lewis that because Carolina was “wearing a party dress” and “looked ok in the hotel video” it was unlikely a jury would convict. 

Tennis kept Carolina grounded. She played on scholarship throughout university, but never planned to be professional. She wanted to be a broadcaster and was a natural in front of the camera.

Tennis kept Carolina grounded. She played on scholarship throughout university, but never planned to be professional. She wanted to be a broadcaster and was a natural in front of the camera.

Another of the professionals working with the family, victim advocate Kathy Redmond, says she thinks that was the wrong decision given the evidence police had.

“There was no way she could consent, they could see that on the video,” Redmond says. “But for the officers to say she was in a party dress … I don’t understand that.”

Redmond says she found the entire case and the police attitude towards Carolina’s death extremely frustrating.

“To me, it looks like she was abducted and drugged. Why were there no charges for anybody? Wouldn’t you think you would want to get to the bottom of this? Why is this laced? Where is it coming from?”

The Lewis family are left further confused when Shell drops a second bomb during the meeting. Gibson used to be a police officer in another state, he says. But the detectives don’t know why he left. His file is closed. Later, another advocate will help David Lewis request the file. It is 600 pages long. They are still unable to find what’s inside. Gibson did not respond to questions for this story.

For Redmond, the fact Gibson is an ex-cop makes the case even worse.

He should have known to get her to a hospital, and didn’t. And he hasn’t been made accountable.
Kathy Redmond

After he finds out about Gibson, Lewis says he wants to see the entire police report, so he can see what other information is on record. To do so, detectives say they have to close Carolina’s file. It can be reopened later, they say. Lewis agrees. A couple of months later, he receives the documents. He struggles to read them, asking Hurley to help him go through the records looking for points to appeal.

“I could tell it was really weighing heavy on him,” Hurley says. “I know how holding it in, being unable to talk to anyone is rough. It broke my heart, watching him. I was just trying to figure out how to help.”

The file is yet to be reopened despite two appeals from the Lewis family.

advertisement

Advertise with Stuff

A HOLDING PATTERN

The Washington Metropolitan Police Department did not respond to questions sent to it for this article. It hasn’t responded at all to the second appeal letter sent by David Lewis, in June this year.  The letter raised four points of concern with the police investigation that the Lewis family say need better investigation. 

These were: the involvement of Larry Holt, and how he had Carolina’s number; whether Holt was at the nightclub that night; the identity of the masked man and the failure to properly promote the security video further than the department’s YouTube channel; and the lack of interest in whether Carolina had the ability to consent to sex.

Hurley believes the police will reply, because they are bound by law. But the lack of communication is unfair, he says.

“We are in a holding pattern. It’s just so disappointing. But I’m really hoping they do think, ‘this is strange,’ and look into it further,” he says.

“There are too many questions and too many bizarre things. If you look at all the people she met that night, calls from people she doesn’t know, the backgrounds, her friend who just met her there. I don’t know how they couldn’t look into it a bit more.”

Carolina and Jade spent a lot of time with their cousins growing up. Carolina was always the "funniest person at the table", Jade said. She misses her all the time.

Carolina and Jade spent a lot of time with their cousins growing up. Carolina was always the "funniest person at the table", Jade said. She misses her all the time.

Carolina’s friends are still struggling to cope with the loss. A small group from Kansas State attended her funeral in South Carolina in 2019. Molly Trujillo, who was with Carolina at the club that night, has never talked to the Lewis family. She told Stuff she couldn’t help with this article, but that Carolina was a “once in a lifetime friend.”

Cora McGee says she was in denial for at least a year. She misses the small things. They used to cook together. Carolina would call her mum Rosaria on Facetime and ask for advice. She thinks of things she wants to tell Carolina almost every day. For a while, she would even text them to Carolina’s old phone.

I’m still in disbelief that she died in the manner she did. It was sad she went out with no dignity. And with the investigation ongoing, it’s very frustrating.
Cora McGee

The Lewis family say their pain is unending. Talking publicly about Carolina’s death was a last resort for them, and a decision they were reluctant to make as intensely private people. 

“We wrestled with it, and still are,” Lewis says. “But we owe it to Carolina and we owe it to future victims of these people and we feel we have to do it to hold these people accountable… so that others won’t be targeted.”

Lewis strongly believes whoever gave Carolina the drugs should be charged with murder. “We believe our daughter was killed. And we suffer, like anyone who has lost a child. We just want answers.”

He goes over and over the details of the case in his mind, every day. He knows almost every piece of the investigation by heart.

“I’m a mess. I feel like my heart has been ripped out,” he says. “There’s not a minute when I don’t think about it.”

He hates thinking about how Carolina died. But he can’t rest. Only justice will bring peace.


Words
Kirsty Johnston

Design, layout and animation
Aaron Wood

Editor
John Hartevelt

It takes real humans, tough phone calls, uncomfortable doorknocks, bushy stakeouts, complex data sets, fancy cameras, tech experts, furious typing and a whole lot more to make each little nugget of Stuff news.

None of those things come cheap, which is why we're asking you to support Stuff with more than just your eyes.

If our news connects with you, helps you understand your world, informs you on what's happening around you, please consider making a contribution.

Help us keep writing, questioning, calling, filming and publishing on your behalf.

Become a supporter