The family of a New Orleans native who was abducted, beaten and fatally stabbed in Russia is working to retrieve the 34-year-old woman’s remains while coming to grips with a crime that has made international headlines.
Catherine Serou — who attended Benjamin Franklin High School before serving in the U.S. Marines and moving to Russia to study law — was found dead Saturday in a wooded area about 250 miles east of Moscow, several days after she went missing. Russian authorities have charged a man named Alexander Popov, who has a violent criminal history, with murdering Serou, according to media reports in that country.
Serou’s sister, who lives in New Orleans, started an online GoFundMe page seeking donations to help Serou’s family travel to Russia to bring her body back to the U.S. and give her a funeral “befitting a veteran.”
The page launched by Marie-Claire Serou had surpassed its $10,000 goal as of Monday.
Catherine Serou’s father, New Orleans attorney Gordon Serou, declined comment Monday, saying it was too painful to discuss his daughter’s death. Attempts to contact Marie-Claire Serou were unsuccessful, though in a Facebook post linking to her GoFundMe campaign she thanked all of her family’s supporters.
According to a Ben Franklin spokesperson, Serou attended the high school in Gentilly from her freshman through her junior years, between 2001 and 2004.
She then spent five years in the Marines beginning in 2006, fighting in the war in Afghanistan from November 2008 to April 2009. Serou attained the rank of corporal, earning various citations, including the National Defense Service and Marine Corps Good Conduct medals.
On the GoFundMe page, Marie-Claire Serou said her older sister was a certified diesel mechanic and belonged to the Marine Corps’ Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252.
Outside of her military service, Catherine Serou pursued degrees in anthropology and photography from Los Rios Community College in Sacramento, California, and in design from the University of California, Davis.
A professor of Russian at UC Davis who taught Serou recalled her leaving an impression with her “intelligence, warmth and humor.”
“I am utterly heartbroken by her loss,” the professor, Jenny Kaminer, told the Fox network affiliate in Sacramento.
Serou also obtained a master’s degree in art history from UC Davis and moved to Russia in 2019 to work on a law degree from the State University of Nizhny Novgorod. A YouTube video circulating in recent days showed her giving an interview to a Russian media outlet, answering questions in Russian and English about lifestyle differences between the U.S. and Russia, among other topics.
News reports said Serou sent a chilling text message to her mother, Rebecca Serou of Vicksburg, Mississippi, on June 15.
“In a car with a stranger,” read the message, according to what Rebecca Serou told NPR. “I hope I’m not being abducted.”
There had been no sign of her for four days when searchers in Bor, Russia, found Serou’s body.
According to the Associated Press, a Russian state news agency reported that local authorities accused Popov of giving her a ride in his car, bringing her to the woods, and then beating and stabbing her to death “in the course of a dispute.”
Popov has since been charged and arraigned, and he could face life imprisonment if convicted of murder.