A Canadian man who went to Peru to study hallucinogenic medicine was lynched by a murderous mob last week after locals blamed the 41-year-old for the shooting death of a village shaman, authorities said.
Sebastian Woodroffe’s body was dug up from an unmarked grave on Saturday in the Ucayali region of the Amazon rainforest. Local authorities began investigating his death after cellphone video emerged, showing a bloodied man, believed to be Woodroffe, begging for mercy as he’s dragged by the neck between thatched-roofed homes in the indigenous community of Victoria Gracia.
Woodroffe, who has a 9-year-old son, was killed Thursday, the same day 81-year-old Olivia Arevalo, an octogenarian plant healer from the Shipibo-Konibo tribe of northeastern Peru, was found dead in her home with two gunshot wounds, the CBC reported. Arevalo’s death sparked outrage among locals, who viewed the traditional healer as a community leader. They reportedly blamed Woodroffe, who Peruvian authorities said was Arevalo’s client.
“We’ve just been in shock. It’s pretty traumatic to hear. It just felt like a scam because there is no way this person [Woodroffe] is capable of that,” Yarrow Willard, a friend of Woodroffe, told the CBC.
Arevalo was a staunch defender of indigenous people’s rights in the region. She also practiced a traditional form of singing medicine that the Shipibo believe removes negative energies from individuals.
Woodroffe traveled to Peru in 2016 hoping to get an apprenticeship with a plant healer from the Shipibo tribe. He wanted to switch careers to become an addiction counselor using hallucinogenic medicine.
“The plant medicine I have the opportunity of learning is far deeper than ingesting a plant and being healed. It is not about getting ‘high’ either. It is true some of the plants I will be learning about do have a perception-altering effect, but these are a few plants out of thousands I will be working with,” he wrote on the Indiegogo crowd-funding website, where he was seeking financial help to advance his studies.
Willard told CBC he feared his friend was a scapegoat and expressed disbelief that Woodroffe could commit the murder.
“This is not right at all,” Willard said.
“He is a little bit of a, I’ll call it a s— disturber. One of these people who likes to poke, and likes to test the boundaries of people’s beliefs, but is very much a gentle person underneath all that,” Willard said on Woodroffe. “This man has never had a gun or talked about anything along that line.”
Some friends, however, said Woodroffe became distant after trying ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic cocktail also known as yage, that some tourists take for mind-altering experiences. The cocktail has been used by indigenous tribes in Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia as a cure for ailments.
Willard said Woodroffe came back from South America “not broken, but troubled.”
In 2015, a Canadian fatally stabbed a fellow tourist from England after the two drank ayahuasca together in a spiritual ceremony a few hours’ drive from where Woodroffe was killed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.