The Tao complex in Tulum, Mexico certainly doesn’t look like the sort of place where anything bad could happen. With its Asian influences, massive golf course and infinity pools, it’s the sort of place that people go to lose themselves in comfort and security for a few weeks. Sadly though, for the Sharp family from Iowa, what should have been a perfect vacation ended in tragedy.
Kevin Wayne Sharp was 41 years old. He worked distributing beer and through that had become a regular race driver at the Adams County Speedway in Iowa. In 2017, he came fourth in the stock car championship. This was the second time that he’d taken his family to Mexico for a vacation.
That family was Sharp’s wife Amy, 38, and their two children Sterling, who was 12, and Adrianna, who was seven. On March 15, 2018, the Sharp family got in touch with relatives in Iowa to let them know that they’d arrived in Mexico. The family had left the United States the day before, first flying out to Tucson, Arizona, before renting a car to drive the rest of the way to Tulum.
The final communication that the family had had with their friends and relatives in Iowa was a Snapchat message posted by Sterling. It showed his feet near the pool next to their rented condo. But then things went quiet. And the people who knew the Sharps could tell that something had gone wrong.
The first clear sign that something was wrong came on March 18, 2018. That was the day of Amy Sharp’s sister’s birthday. Renee Hoyt always got a call from her sister on the day, even if it was well into the night before she did. The next morning, it dawned on Hoyt that she’d heard nothing at all.
Two days later – March 21, 2018 – it was Hoyt’s husband’s birthday. Glen Hoyt was a close friend of Kevin Sharp and they’d spent time racing together. Again, there was no phone call. By that point it had been six days since anyone had heard from the vacationing Sharp family.
There were other worrying signs as well. Sterling Sharp hadn’t posted anything to Snapchat or been seen on social media for days. Jana Weland is a cousin of Amy Sharp, and she spoke to The Des Moines Register, explaining her fears. “Everything started clicking, all these little things that you’ve thought of throughout the week.”
The day of Glen Hoyt’s birthday – Wednesday, March 21, 2018 – was the day the Sharps were supposed to come home from Mexico. Their flight was scheduled to come in at around 6:00 p.m. that evening. But the Sharps never arrived. Kevin was supposed to get in touch with the colleagues at his beer firm that morning too, but he never did.
But even then, the Sharps’ friends and family held out hope. They thought that maybe the family had just decided to spend an extra day in Mexico. Or perhaps they’d had some difficulty with their flight. Even though the family was missing a basketball game in Danville, Illinois, that they’d been looking forward to, those in America waited in hope for one more day.
When the last flight came into St. Louis, Missouri on Thursday and the Sharps weren’t on it, it was time to reach out. Hoyt and others headed to the police late that night to report that the family were missing. But their searching didn’t stop there. Into the small hours of that night, they were at work.
At approximately 5am on Friday morning, the Sharps’ relatives in the United States were talking to a property manager at the Tulum resort. According to Weland, the woman they were speaking to said she was heading to the apartment that the Sharps had rented to check up on them.
The manager told the Sharps’ relatives that she’d call back when she had more news. But that call never came. Instead, three hours later at around 8am, the frantic friends and family received a different call. This one was from the Iowa police, asking them to come down to the station in Creston. It was then that they were given the tragic news.
All four of the Sharps were dead. According to the state prosecutor’s office for Quintana Roo, there was no foul play in the deaths. Quoted in The Washington Post, the office said that “any violent act or suicide has been discounted.” So how was it that this family’s dream holiday turned into the ultimate nightmare?
The culprit was far more mundane, but no less chilling, than an attacker. The family died of asphyxiation. They breathed in toxic gas, perhaps carbon monoxide. And apparently that toxic gas was leaking out of a water heater in their apartment. For the survivors in America though, there were some things that didn’t add up.
Initial autopsy reports from Mexico suggested that the Sharps had been dead for no more than two days. But that didn’t sound right to the Sharps’ relatives. After all, they’d had no contact with the family since the day that they had arrived in Mexico. For them, there are still questions that need to be answered.
The family is awaiting more detailed results from the autopsies, which will tell them exactly what gas killed the Sharps, and perhaps more importantly, shed more light on the timeline of this tragedy. In the meantime though, the Sharp family were brought back to Iowa to be laid to rest.
At the funeral, around 1,000 mourners filled the gym of the local community college. There, Kevin’s brother, Kurtis, gave a moving but atypical eulogy to his lost sibling. According to The Des Moines Register, after playing “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC through the gym’s speakers, he said that, “Kevin had a heart that his body could not contain.”
As the speech came to an end, the doors of the hall opened up to show Kevin Sharp’s racing car. It revved its massive engine four times, Kurtis counting each growl with a raised finger. Each of the Sharps was given their own moment, as friends and family recalled the times they’d spent with them.
As much as this was a memorial, it was also a celebration of four people who touched the hearts of the community that they were a huge part of. And the family and friends that they leave behind intend to make sure that their legacy lives on in the Iowa town that they loved so much.
Ideas have included scholarships for students who might not have the money to play sports or join a dance studio, the passions of Sterling and Adrianna Sharp, respectively. Another suggestion has been a campaign to install carbon monoxide detectors in vacation properties. That way no other family will suffer the heartache and loss that the Sharps’ family have.