A young substitute teacher from Winnipeg who died while travelling in Cambodia is being remembered by a friend for her big heart and generous spirit.
Abbey Amisola, 27, was found dead at a hostel in Kampot, in southern Cambodia, on Tuesday morning, her family has confirmed.
"She was just an amazing person," said Dustin Brooks, who had been a friend since the pair went through high school and university together.
"She taught me a lot about empathy and compassion and helping others, and I taught her a lot about standing up for herself and being confident, and we made a really good pair."
Brooks and Amisola were part of a tight-knit group of eight longtime friends, he said. All eight have the same tattoo they got when they were 18 — four diamonds, denoting the four men and four women in the group.
"We thought eight was a bit excessive," Brooks said with a laugh.
"We thought it was cheesy, but now it kind of holds true that diamonds are forever," he added.
In the days since Amisola's death, Brooks said he's spent a lot of time with those friends, who he described as family.
"We've all been friends for a really long time," he said. "Now it's just — it's never going to be the same, without her."
'She's such a safe person'
Staff from the Monkey Republic hostel in Cambodia told CBC News in an online message that Amisola and her British travelling companion, 22-year-old Natalie Jade Seymour, died after taking too much of a medication they got from a pharmacy.
Immigration officials from Cambodia posted online that Amisola and Seymour hadn't been feeling well the night before, and were suffering severe diarrhea and vomiting.
Police are investigating the possible cause of death, Monkey Republic staff said.
Brooks said he heard from Amisola on Nov. 6 that she was feeling sick. He's travelled with her several times, he added, and it wasn't unusual for her to feel ill on those occasions.
He said Amisola was a safe and responsible traveller.
"She's such a safe person whenever we've travelled," he said. "She's always the nervous Nelly, and always keeps me and my other friends in line and steers us away from bad decisions."
The last time he was in touch with her, on Sunday, the pair enjoyed a laugh, he said.
"Actually, on Sunday, our conversation wasn't anything special. I sent her a meme and we were laughing about it, and that was our last conversation," he said.
More than $26K raised for family
Amisola's family hopes to bring her body back to Canada within two weeks, Brooks said.
A crowdfunding campaign set up by friends to support the family financially has raised more than $26,000 since Nov. 14 — far surpassing the initial goal of $10,000, and even the updated goal of $20,000.
Samantha Gilkes started the Go Fund Me page after her younger brother suggested it. Gilkes said her family is close with Amisola's, and they wanted to find a way to help.
"We just wanted to alleviate any stress. This is already tragic enough, they're dealing with enough," Gilkes said in an interview with CBC's Up to Speed.
Brooks said he didn't have anything to do with the fundraiser, but he's touched and grateful to see the support coming in for his friend. He hopes the donations will help the family cover funeral costs and allow them time to grieve.
"I can't thank [the organizers] enough," he said. "It's amazing what they're doing."
Gilkes said she had been friends with Amisola since she was nine years old, when they met at school. "She was new. We instantly became friends that day. I asked her is she wanted to play and from that moment on we had become really good friends. We were going on 18 years of friendship this year."
The two women kept in touch during Amisola's trip. "The last time I talked to her, she told me that she absolutely fell in love with it out there and she was really hoping to maybe even stay out there and teach. We were just planning our next adventure of me hopefully going out there and seeing her."
After sharing nearly 15 years with Amisola, Brooks said one memory that will stand out is their drive to school every morning, singing at the top of their lungs.
"Me and her, we took all of our university together as well, on top of high school, and we would carpool to school every day. All of our friends would get mad at us — we would always sing," he said.
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