Shanquella Robinson traveled to the resort town of San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, with six university friends for a week-long stay in a luxury apartment on October 28. Within 24 hours of their arrival, the 25-year-old was dead. Ms Robinson’s friends delivered her suitcases to her heartbroken parents Bernard and Salamondra in Charlotte, North Carolina, and claimed she had died of alcohol poisoning after a day of heavy drinking.
The friends’ story was discredited when an autopsy released on November 10 revealed Ms Robinson had suffered a “severe spinal cord injury” and broken neck 15 minutes before her death (the death certificate was obtained by The Independent.)
Then, on November 15, horrifying footage emerged online of a naked Shanquella being brutally beaten in a resort hotel room.
In the roughly 20-second long clip, a female aggressor approaches Shanquella and knocks her to the ground, before delivering a flurry of brutal punches and kicks. A prone Shanquella slumps, defenseless, to the floor in response. Although her attacker is fully clothed, she is inexplicably naked. A man seemingly filming the attack taunts Shanquella while doing nothing to intervene. “At least fight back, something,” he can be heard saying.
Shanquella’s father Bernard Robinson verified it was his daughter in the footage in an interview with TMZ and said he believes that the attack was premeditated by the people she thought were her friends. “My daughter’s not a fighter man, she’s not a fighter, not at all,” he said.
The disturbing clip of the attack went viral on social media, and in the face of apparent inaction from authorities, the hashtag #justiceforquella soon began trending on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. Since then, major discrepancies have emerged between the Mexican authorities’ official account of what transpired before Shanquella’s death and what others claimed happened that night.
A police report provided to The Independent by Gerardo Zuñiga, an investigative reporter for MetropliMx, revealed emergency responders treated Shanquella in her apartment for nearly four hours before she died. In that report, police claim that the alarm was first raised at 2.23pm on October 29, just one day after Ms Robinson and her friends arrived at the luxury resort. A doctor arrived an hour later to find Shanquella verbally unresponsive. Not long afterwards, she suffered a seizure.
The police report states that friends refused the doctor’s recommendations that Shanquella be transferred to hospital, insisting she remain at the resort. It was only when death appeared imminent that an ambulance was called. Ms Robinson went into cardiac arrest, after which a doctor reportedly administered 14 rounds of CPR, and gave her five doses of adrenaline and six discharges of a defibrillator. These efforts were in vain, and she was eventually pronounced dead at 5.57pm.
This four-hour-long saga seems in direct opposition to the death certificate which describes Ms Robinson dying just 15 minutes after suffering a broken neck. Indeed, it’s unclear if the doctor who treated Shanquella was aware that she was suffering from a catastrophic spinal injury or whether her friends’ insistence that she had alcohol poisoning affected the treatment she was given.
The FBI’s Charlotte Field Office has opened an investigation into Shanquella’s death, while the doctor who treated her and the two police officers are also reportedly under investigation by Mexican authorities, according to MetropoliMx. Additionally, the Baja California state attorney general’s office is investigating Shanquella’s death as a possible “femicide”, a form of gender-based violence.
On 23 November, prosecutors in Mexico issued an arrest warrant for one of the travelling group. The suspect has not been officially named.
“Actually it wasn’t a quarrel, but instead a direct aggression,” Daniel de la Rosa Anaya, a prosecutor for the state of Baja California Sur, told MetropoliMx.
“We are carrying out all the pertinent procedures such as the Interpol alert and the request for extradition to the United States of America. It’s about two Americans, the victim and the culprit.”
Shanquella’s grieving family have not responded to requests for comment from The Independent. But in several interviews, they say they are desperate for answers from the so-called friends who travelled to Mexico with her, who online activists have dubbed “the Cabo 6”.
‘Where y’all at?’
San Jose del Cabo, a port town on the southern tip of Baja California, is a tourist hotspot that attracts around three million international visitors a year. Known for its white sand beaches, turquoise water and lively nightlife, Cabo is a favourite of young American travellers in search of adventure.
Shanquella, a graduate of Winston-Salem State University who ran a beauty and hair-braiding business called Exquisite Kids in her hometown of Charlotte, checked into the $2,500-a-night Villa Linda 32 at the Puerto Los Cabos resort in Fundadores on October 28 with the traveling party. The party included four women and six men.
In a video clip thought to have been shot the day of their arrival and shared by the Neighbourhood Talk Instagram account, Shanquella appears in good spirits as she jokes that her friends are taking too long to get ready. “It don’t take that long to get naked. Where y’all at?” she says while walking around the villa, asking which swimsuits the others are going to wear.
According to the police report, Dr Karolina Beatriz Ornelas Gutiérrez, a medic from the nearby American Medical Center, arrived at the Villa Linda 32 resort at 3.15pm on 29 October. Medical callouts are relatively common for US tourists in Mexico.
In the police document, which is in Spanish, Dr Gutierrez says she was told that Shanquella had consumed a lot of alcohol and required an IV drip. The medic states that Shanquella appeared to be intoxicated and was not able to communicate verbally. She recommended that the patient be transferred to a hospital immediately, but said that the friends were adamant she remain at the resort.
At 4.20pm, the police document states that Shanquella started having seizures. The doctor noted that Shanquella was struggling to breathe and her pulse had lowered.
At that time Wenter Donovan, one of the female friends in the travelling party, called 911, the report states. A number for Ms Donovan listed on the document has been disconnected.
Around half an hour later at 4.49pm, the doctor began administering CPR after detecting that Shanquella no longer had a pulse. All in all, Shanquella was given 14 rounds of CPR, five doses of adrenaline and six shocks with a defibrillator. She was pronounced dead at 5.57pm, with the cause of death listed as “cardiopulmonary arrest”.
In a statement to ABC News, the state attorney general’s office of Baja California Sur said investigators were collecting “more evidence to achieve the accurate clarification of the events, without ruling out any hypothesis”. They did not respond to requests for comment from The Independent.
According to local investigative journalist Geraldo Zunega, authorities in Cabo are investigating the actions of the doctor and two officers from the local police force as part of their inquiry.
‘I never believed them anyway’
In an interview with CBS News, Shanquella’s mother Sallamondra Robinson said that her six friends had come to see her and given conflicting accounts of the lead-up to her death. They claimed her daughter had died of alcohol poisoning, and that her body had been found by a maid.
“No one told the same story, so I never believed them anyway,” she told CBS News. Ms Robinson said her daughter’s body showed obvious signs of trauma and bruising after it was repatriated on November 12.
One member of the group had been Shanquella’s closest friend for five years, according to Ms Robinson. This friend had even traveled with the Robinsons on family vacations, she added. That friend hasn’t been seen since the autopsy results emerged.
After viewing the footage of the sickening assault on her daughter, Shanquella’s mother told CBS News she was perplexed why none of the so-called friends had intervened: “She was not fighting nobody back. She didn’t even have a chance.”
Ms Robinson has since claimed on Instagram that the friends stole $10,000 from her daughter.
The family initially struggled to convince authorities that Shanquella’s death merited further investigation. On a GoFundme page set up to help the family’s legal costs, Shanquella’s sister Quilla Long says the US State Department told them there was “no clear evidence of foul play”.
“This statement is unacceptable, and we are beyond devastated,” Ms Long writes. “We continue to fight for the truth.”
Nearly $370,000 had been donated to the fund by Wednesday, including a $65,000 contribution from NBA player Kyrie Irving.
In an interview with NBC News, Salamondra Robinson credited Black social media users with bringing attention to the case after mainstream news outlets and authorities had shown little interest early on. “I appreciate the ones working so hard to get justice done. We’re not done yet, but we’re going to get there,” she told NBC News.
Hundreds of online sleuths have now pored over the digital footprints of “the Cabo 6”, searching for clues as to what led to the assault on Shanquella in Mexico. Some have deleted their social media accounts in response, and are not responding to voice messages or emails.The Independent’ was unable to reach any of the six who travelled to Mexico.
The FBI has since confirmed in a statement to The Independent that they are investigating the death, but are refusing to release any further details.
‘I’m not going to let this go’
On Saturday, hundreds of mourners attended Shanquella’s funeral service at the Macedonia Baptist Church in Charlotte. The overriding feeling, according to a WBTV reporter in attendance, was that there is a need to “continue to push for justice”.
Among those at the service was national civil rights activist Tamika Mallory, an organiser of the 2017 Women’s March. “We came to ensure there is enough people putting pressure on the entire system to do what is necessary to get justice for this woman,” Ms Mallory told WBTV.
Pressure is also being placed on officials in Mexico to answer why Shanquella’s friends were allowed to leave the country after the sudden death of their traveling companion.
Ms Robinson’s death came four days after the death of another US citizen, 73-year-old Rodney Davis, who was allegedly abducted and murdered near Loreto, a few hundreds kilometres north of San Jose del Cabo. Four suspects have been arrested in that case, prosecutors have said.
In an interview on Tuesday, Bernard Robinson told the New York Times he was “hurting to his core” and would not rest until justice had been served.
“She’s gone, so right now her dad is going to stand and be her voice to the utmost and the fullest,” he said. “I’m not going to let this go.”