The family of Nancy Ng, a 29-year-old who went missing last month while on a yoga retreat in Guatemala, says they’re “grateful” that one of the final people to see her finally shared details with the media last week.
Younger sister Nicky Ng, 27, said her family isn’t ruling out the possibility that Nancy drowned in Lake Atítlan after an account from Christina Blazek, a witness who spoke through an attorney. But they now have more questions than answers, Nicky told NBC News.
G. Christopher Gardner, Blazek’s attorney, said in an interview with KABC-TV of Los Angeles last Wednesday that his client had tried to warn Nancy of the lake’s rough waters when they were out kayaking right before she disappeared.
Neither Blazek nor Gardner responded to NBC News’ request for comment.
Blazek’s comments through her lawyer are a start in helping determine Nancy’s whereabouts, Nicky said, but the family said they are hesitant to accept the account at face value and are hoping that Blazek will come forward with a statement of her own. She said the family has not heard back from either Blazek or Gardner.
“I don’t know how much my family can accept that statement if it’s not backed up or confirmed by authorities,” Nicky said. “Whatever she’s sharing with her attorney, I don’t believe it’s something that’s under oath. And it’s maybe even his interpretation of what she told him.
She added: “At the end of the day, what we want is more information so that we can direct our search team.”
Nancy went missing on Oct. 19 during a “Be the Change” yoga retreat organized by Los Angeles instructor Eduardo Rimada, Nicky said. She went off on a kayaking excursion in Lake Atitlan. Gardner told KABC that Blazek, who also attended the retreat, “happened upon” Nancy kayaking on the lake and attempted to warn her that the conditions weren’t safe for swimming. In Blazek’s account, Gardner said, Nancy ignored the warnings, got in the water and pushed her kayak away from herself in the process. Blazek then said she attempted to help retrieve Nancy’s kayak and it was in those moments that Nancy disappeared.
“[Blazek] kept one leg in her kayak and one leg in [Nancy’s] kayak and tried to get back to her ... and got close to her,” Gardner told KABC. “And then apparently, [Blazek] lost the kayak again and she turned around to go back to get the kayak again, and when she turned back around, Ms. Ng was gone.”
Rimada told NBC News in a text message that Nancy’s disappearance weighs “heavy on my heart.”
“I am not ready to speak publicly yet but I have been in clear communication with Nancy’s family and the authorities in Guatemala since the very beginning,” Rimada said. “The FBI conducted interviews to help bring closure to the Ng family that I was also completely forthcoming with.”
Gardner told KABC that Blazek tried to get help and also cooperated with local authorities.
“She was told she needed to talk to the police, and she went and gave a full statement to Guatemalan police,” said Gardner. “They told her there was nothing that could be done. Apparently that lake is known for having people drown on it.”
NBC News reached out to the Guatemala prosecutor’s office but did not receive a response and cannot independently verify Blazek’s account.
The FBI said in a statement that it is in communication with the Guatemalan government and is assisting them with the investigation. Additionally, the agency told KABC that they are not aware of any evidence of foul play and witnesses were cooperating. And while the State Department confirmed that there is a missing U.S. citizen at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, they declined to share further details about the case “due to privacy considerations.”
But Blazek’s account has prompted new questions from the family and resurfaced some they’ve had since the day of the accident.
“Nancy’s a good swimmer. I don’t understand how this could have happened. Was she struggling for a long time? Did Christina hear her scream or yell for help?” Nicky said. “What was the scope? The circumstances? Did she just disappear? Was there a land nearby that she could have swam? I had no context or not enough context of what was going on. So those are the same questions we still have today.”
And they haven’t been given information about Blazek’s police report that she said she filed, Nicky added. According to a report from the Sololá Prosecutor’s Office, excerpts of which have been seen by NBC News, Blazek was unable to provide testimony at her summons on Oct. 20, as she had already left for the U.S.
The account comes after the family unsuccessfully attempted to connect with Blazek over emails, seen by NBC News, first on Oct. 25 and Oct. 31. Black Wolf Helicopters, the private search-and-rescue firm hired by the family to continue efforts on the ground, released Blazek’s name in a press release on Nov. 13, to encourage her to come forward, Nicky said. And the next day, Nicky said her family saw Blazek’s lawyer in the media, the first time they had heard from her.
Gardner gave an explanation in the interview as to why Blazek might not have come forward until weeks later.
“[Nancy’s family members] tell her they understand she has been through a traumatic experience but then they tell her she needs to come forward to assist authorities ... and they say in the same email if she doesn’t come forward they’ll make her come forward,” the attorney told KABC.
The family, however, disagrees with Gardner’s characterization of their attempts to contact her.
The email from Oct. 31 reads, “Please help us to understand what happened and bring Nancy home. If you fail to cooperate, we will pursue this matter further.”
“I think we expressed the urgency of it,” Nicky said. “And said that we would just further pursue this matter, I think as any family would do, to involve the authorities to get more information. It is an active case. It’s an open missing persons case and yet, the only witness to this missing person isn’t isn’t being more forthcoming.”
Nicky added, “I think that’s an appropriate response from a family that’s waited two weeks to hear from this person.”
Nancy’s disappearance has been devastating for the family of six, Nicky said.
“When we think about the [possibility of] drowning, my dad, he takes it really hard because he taught Nancy how to swim,” Nicky said. “I think they’re taking it really hard, and at the same time, they’re trying to be strong for me and my brothers.”
Nicky added that the search for Nancy, who worked with special needs children in the Alhambra Unified School District in Southern California, has been difficult for the students she was close with as well.
“We have had a lot of her clients’ parents reach out to us and just say Nancy had a special connection with their child and that their child now doesn’t understand why Nancy’s not back,” Nicky said.
As the search continues, her family hopes that others will spread the word about Nancy and honor her infectious spirit, Nicky said, describing the beloved sister as a lover of the environment and animals who never failed to live in the moment.
“She will stop by the side of a road to pick up litter or to pick up a bottle to recycle. She cares so much about the environment. And she’s just an inner child on the outside. She will literally dance in the rain,” Nicky said.
For now, Nicky said, the family is going to do all they can to keep Nancy’s story alive. And this Thanksgiving, they’re leaving a seat at the dinner table for her.
“I keep thinking, what would Nancy do?” Nicky said through tears. “I know she wouldn’t give up when it’s in the name of someone she loves. She will go above and beyond for that person. So I’m just trying to do right by her.”