When Lola Moore thinks back to the day her daughter and two dozen of her classmates said their goodbyes as they prepared to leave for a trip to Ghana, one moment is especially haunting. "The last thing the chaperones said was, `Don't worry — we'll take good care of her,'" Moore recalled Friday as she fought back tears. "And she was the only one who didn't come home."
Six weeks after 18-year-old Phylicia Moore's body was discovered at the bottom of a hotel swimming pool in the Ghanaian capital of Accra, Lola and Douglas Moore are demanding answers to questions they say have not been adequately answered by the initial investigation in Ghana or by school officials in Teaneck.
Their anger stems from two beliefs: that their daughter's death was not an accident, and that Phylicia would still be alive had the trip's chaperones been more vigilant in monitoring the students.
"She was stolen from us," Lola Moore said in an interview at the office of Nancy Lucianna, an attorney representing the family.
Lucianna filed a legal notice Friday informing the Teaneck School District of the Moores' intent to sue for negligence in their daughter's death.
They also have been pushing for the FBI to investigate, an effort aided by Rep. Steve Rothman, D-N.J. The U.S. ambassador to Ghana, Pamela E. Bridgewater, told the Moores in a letter Friday that Ron Nolan, the FBI's legal attache assigned to Lagos, Nigeria, would travel to Ghana next week and serve as a liaison to a task force formed by Ghanaian authorities to review Moore's death.
Under international law, the FBI cannot be formally involved in the investigation until it receives an official request from the Ghanaian government. The FBI had not received such a request as of Friday.
The details of the final hours of Phylicia Moore's life are frustratingly incomplete. She was seen leaving the hotel swimming pool alone around 10:30 p.m. April 15. About 11 hours later, her body was discovered in the pool, still clad in a tank top and shorts with a bathing suit underneath.
An autopsy performed in Ghana found no foul play, pending the results of toxicology tests. A separate autopsy performed in the United States for the Moores concluded that Phylicia's body had not been in the water for a significant amount of time.
Douglas Moore rejects the notion that his daughter, who could tread water but was not a swimmer, would have been horsing around in the pool — particularly at the deep end, where her body was found.
He is troubled that Phylicia's absence apparently was not noticed by the chaperones, nor was it reported to them by the students, some of whom were awake until the wee hours of the morning while the chaperones slept.
"Most certainly there was negligence," Douglas Moore said.
Teaneck High School Principal Angela Davis was out of the office Friday and could not be reached for comment. School district officials have said they support an FBI investigation into Phylicia's death.
The Moores claim Ghanaian authorities botched the investigation by failing to interview more than a handful of students and chaperones before the group continued its tour delivering supplies to schools and to an AIDS orphanage. The group returned to Accra before flying home, but that gave authorities little time to conclude an investigation.
"I feel it's important that in order to solve this, everybody should be interviewed, not just a few people," Douglas Moore said. "That goes for the people connected to the hotel, any visitors, all the students and the chaperones. Then they will most likely get a handle on what happened to my daughter. But to just let it go for a month like this, that's no good."
For now, the last images of Phylicia are found on a video shot by a student on the bus to the airport. She is wearing a pink sweat shirt and flashing what her mother called her "signature smile." She looks giddy with anticipation as the videographer asks her how she is feeling.
"I feel good," she says. "I'm leaving my parents. I'm excited. I'm scared I forgot something."