Catherine Serou,34, a former marine and current student, had not been heard from since Tuesday evening, until late Friday.  She was last seen getting into an unidentified vehicle outside her residence in the Russian town, Bor in the region of Nizhny Novogorod, around 250 east of Moscow.

Serou had graduated from the University of California with a master’s degree in art history and had served in the Marine Corps, doing one tour in Afghanistan.  She enrolled in a master’s program in law at Lobachevshky State University in 2019 and wanted to learn Russian before becoming an immigration lawyer. 

She was one of two U.S. students among around 1,700 foreign students from more than 100 countries studying at the Lobachevsky State University of Nizhny Novogorod.

Her mother, Becci Serou, who lives in Vicksburg, Mississippi, had called her daughter early Tuesday evening, but was not able to reach her.  Becci attended a class of her own and then found a message on her phone from Catherine, it said:  “In a car with a stranger.  I hope I’m not being abducted.”  “I realized she had sent me that note 40 minutes before I found it.  I tried to reach her but her phone was off.  Becci than notified authorities.

A public appeal was made on social media, and over 100 policemen and National Guards units looked all over the Bor woods for Catherine for three days.  Luckily, a security camera near the local railroad had captured an image of a car belonging to 43-year-old Aleksey Popov.  He had been previously prosecuted for raping another woman.  Popov was arrested on suspicion of murder and later showed the police where the student’s body was hidden in the bushes on Friday.  Popov is in custody and stands accused of her murder.

Her mother said, “Catherine grew up in New Orleans, where she had some Russian friends.  She was always a big fan of Russian art, she also weaved scarves and sold them at a kiosk in Nizhy Novgorod.”

On Saturday, NPR journalist Lucian Kim, who had interviewed Beccy Serou, tweeted a video of her daughter previously giving an interview in Russian and English to a local news channel.  Beccy said she had learned that her daughter was in a hurry to get to a clinic and so may have got into a passing car rather than wait for an Uber.

Kim tweeted “Her disappearance had moved me the most since I started covering Russia for NPR 5 years ago.”  He described her story. “As one of a young American coming to Russia with high hopes and her mother’s fortitude as darkness closed in, thousands of miles away.”

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