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A U.S. Student Who Went Missing In Russia Is Found Dead

Catherine Serou, a U.S. citizen studying in Russia, was found dead after going missing earlier this week, officials said.
Beccy Serou
Catherine Serou, a U.S. citizen studying in Russia, was found dead after going missing earlier this week, officials said.

MOSCOW — Catherine Serou, a 34-year-old U.S. citizen studying in Russia, has been found dead after she went missing on Tuesday, Russia's Investigative Committee said in a statement.

A man in his early 40s with past convictions, has been arrested and is cooperating with investigators, the committee said. His name was not released.

Serou disappeared after she got into a car with a stranger in a suburb of Nizhny Novgorod, a city on the Volga River 250 miles east of Moscow. The last sign of life from Serou was a text message to her mother in Vicksburg, Miss., saying: "In a car with a stranger. I hope I'm not being abducted."

Serou's body was found early Saturday morning, an hour after the suspect was arrested, the news site reported, citing regional police. A tabloid site has published a photo, apparently taken by a surveillance camera, showing Serou looking out of the open passenger window of a silver car.

In a statement, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow said it was "closely monitoring" the local authorities' investigation and providing "all appropriate assistance" to Serou's family.

Serou enrolled in a master's program in law at Lobachevsky University in Nizhny Novgorod in the fall of 2019, her mother, Beccy Serou, told NPR on Friday. Catherine Serou wanted to study Russian before applying for law school in the United States and pursuing a career as an immigration lawyer.

She served in the Marine Corps and did one tour in Afghanistan before earning a bachelor's degree in design and a master's degree in art history at the University of California, Davis.

On Thursday, regional investigators opened a potential murder case after Serou disappeared following the text message to her mother. Investigators appealed to local residents of Bor, the Nizhny Novgorod suburb where Serou lived, and environs to provide any clues to her abduction. Police and volunteers combed the forests north of Bor where Serou's cellphone was last picked up.

Serou probably panicked as she was driven into a forest, her mother says

Serou had been in a hurry on Tuesday to return to a clinic in Nizhny Novgorod where she had made a payment that didn't go through, according to her mother, so she may have jumped into a passing car without waiting for her Uber to arrive.

"I think that when she saw that the person wasn't driving to the clinic, but instead was driving into a forest, she panicked," Beccy Serou said.

Beccy Serou, a paralegal, last saw her daughter about two years ago, when Catherine sold her condominium in California to finance her studies in Russia. They stayed in touch with daily phone calls, and Beccy Serou says her daughter was enjoying her time abroad.

"She loved the university," Serou said.

A video posted by the news site less than a year ago shows Catherine Serou laughing and bantering in Russian and English as she explained cultural differences between Russia and the United States.

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Lucian Kim is NPR's international correspondent based in Moscow. He has been reporting on Europe and the former Soviet Union for the past two decades.