About a year ago, Karen Bermudez said goodbye to her family and set out to discover a world beyond Colombia, leaving behind a marriage proposal, a good job and a close-knit circle of friends.

"She wanted to have new experiences, she wanted to travel," said Yudi Lorena Padilla, 26, who went to college with Bermudez. "She wanted to know what it was like to be an independent woman."

At 26, she joined legions of young women like her who came to the New York region to find work as au pairs. It is a relatively safe rite of passage for

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A new beginning

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A troubled relationship

First a party, then bloodshed

One tragedy, two funerals