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Water heater gas leak likely killed Iowa family vacationing in Mexico, official says

Kevin Wayne Sharp, 41, his wife,  Amy Marie Sharp, 38, and their kids, Sterling Wayne Sharp, 12, and Adrianna Marie Sharp, 7, were found dead in a tourism building in Tulum, Mexico. (Undated photo from Facebook)
Kevin Wayne Sharp, 41, his wife, Amy Marie Sharp, 38, and their kids, Sterling Wayne Sharp, 12, and Adrianna Marie Sharp, 7, were found dead in a tourism building in Tulum, Mexico. (Undated photo from Facebook)

The Sharp family planned to visit Mexico’s glittering Caribbean coast for a week, renting a condo near the sandswept community of Tulum. They were expected back Wednesday.

They never made it home to Iowa. All four members of the family asphyxiated on toxic gas in the condo, likely leaking from a water heater, Mexican authorities said Monday.

The revelation was a step closer to answering a question that has loomed over the shocked community of Creston, Iowa, where the Sharps lived: How did this happen?

Kevin Wayne Sharp, 41; Amy Marie Sharp, 38; Sterling Wayne Sharp, 12, and Adrianna Marie Sharp, 7, were found dead inside the condo Friday. They all died after inhaling the toxic fumes, Quintana Roo state prosecutor Miguel Angel Pech said.

The water heater “was leaking gas, maybe from use or lack of maintenance,” Pech said, according to The Associated Press. The office had previously reiterated that foul play was not a factor.

“Any violent act or suicide has been discounted,” authorities previously said.

Photos published by the prosecutor’s office show firemen in respirators and other workers in anti-contamination suits examining gas lines. The Sharp family appeared to have been dead for 36 to 48 hours when they were discovered, Mexican authorities said.

Mexican authorities have coordinated with U.S. officials in Mexico to bring the bodies of the Sharp family home, said Jana Weland, Amy Sharp’s cousin.

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“It’s been very stressful but the consulate’s been good about helping us,” Weland told the Des Moines Register. “Even the funeral home in Mexico has been good at helping.”

She said a funeral is being planned at Southwestern Community College in Creston, about 70 miles southwest of Des Moines.

“Life is not going to be the same without her,” Beth Fry, Amy Sharp’s mother, said Friday, according to The Associated Press. “Half my family is gone.”

The Sharps left the United States for Cancun on March 14, then rented a car and drove toward Tulum, according to Amy Sharp’s sister, Renee Hoyt, who spoke with the Creston News Advertiser. The condo the family rented was at Tao, according to the attorney general, near Akumal, a tourist-friendly beachfront community.

The family, who were on their second trip to Mexico, had planned to meet up with some friends at a water park, Weland, told ABC News.

But “they never showed up at that water park to meet them,” Weland said.

In fact, the Sharps’ relatives hadn’t heard anything from Kevin or Amy Sharp since the day they arrived in Mexico.

It was also unusual for the family not to post photos of their vacation to social media, because “last year they shared pictures about every day,” Weland said.

About a week later, on Thursday night, relatives had a sinking feeling that something wasn’t right. The Sharps were supposed to return Wednesday, family members said.

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The relatives decided to wait till Thursday in case the Sharps had just planned to stay an extra day, Weland told ABC News.

“I guess we were all kind of hoping for the best,” she said.

Then, the family tracked Kevin Sharp’s phone using Apple’s Find my iPhone app. It pinged in Mexico, Hoyt told the Creston News Advertiser. The phone had not moved from its location since Thursday morning.

Paulina Chávez Alonzo, a spokeswoman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, told NBC News that the government offered its “deepest condolences to the family and friends of the Sharps.”

Kevin Sharp was a salesman for the beer distributor Southwest Distributing Co., and Amy was a dental-claims specialist for Principal Financial in Des Moines. They had been married for more than 16 years, according to the AP.

Family members described Adrianna as the “fashion stylist” who “ruled that family.” Her brother was an athlete who played baseball, swam and hunted.

“They lived life on the fly, let me tell you,” Fry said, according to the AP.

Kevin Sharp was also an avid stock-car racer, known as “the Sharpshooter” in the local scene, and often competed in events in his neighboring county, friend and fellow racer Cliff Baldwin told the Des Moines Register.

“Creston is close-knit like all small towns in Iowa,” Baldwin added. “He’s a big part of that community there.”

On Saturday, the community held a candlelight vigil at Adams County Speedway, where the Sharps were regular spectators, the local NBC affiliate WHO reported.

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“I can tell you one thing about Kevin Sharp: He was a family man. Most people don’t appreciate the fact that when you come to this racetrack, this is a family,” a friend of the Sharp family said.

On Friday, Fry said the family was determined to get through the tragedy.

“One way or another, we will.”

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