LIMA, Peru – Peru’s attorney general has ordered the arrest of two suspects in the killing of a Canadian man who travelled to the Amazon rain forest to study hallucinogenic medicine, officials said Monday.
Authorities said over the weekend that a mob dragged Sebastian Woodroffe by the neck to his death shortly after people accused him of killing Olivia Arevalo, an octogenarian plant healer from the Shipibo-Konibo tribe of northeastern Peru.
Prosecutors said Monday the two suspects were identified in a video shot on a cellphone showing the moment Woodroffe, who was 41, was killed last week.
Officials said forensic experts were studying Woodroffe’s body to determine whether he had any involvement in Arevalo’s killing as was initially suggested after they backed away from reports that he was the principal suspect.
Arevalo and Woodroffe were both killed Thursday in the indigenous community of Victoria Gracia, officials said. But police did not begin to investigate until a cellphone video appeared in local media showing a man purported to be Woodroffe begging for mercy while being dragged between thatch-roofed homes. He was then left motionless on the muddy ground.
On Saturday, officials dug up Woodroffe’s body from an unmarked grave where he had been hastily buried.
Global Affairs Canada spokeswoman Brianne Maxwell said Monday the department was aware of the case and had been in touch with the man’s family and Peruvian officials but no further information would be provided due to privacy concerns.
Every year thousands of foreign tourists travel to the Peruvian Amazon to experiment with ayahuasca — a bitter, dark-coloured brew made of a mixture of native plants.
The hallucinogenic cocktail, also known as yage, has been venerated for centuries by indigenous tribes in Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia as a cure for all sorts of ailments. It’s also increasingly consumed by Western tourists looking for mind-altering experiences, sometimes with deadly consequences.
Arevalo was a staunch defender of indigenous people’s rights in the region. She also practised a traditional form of singing medicine that the Shipibo believe removes negative energies from individuals and a group alike.
Woodroffe, who was from Vancouver Island, said before going to Peru that he hoped an apprenticeship with a plant healer from the Shipibo tribe would help his goal of changing careers to become an addiction counsellor using hallucinogenic medicine.
“A recent family intervention for a relative with an alcohol addiction has opened my eyes to what I should be doing for work,” he wrote on the Indiegogo crowd-funding website seeking financial help to advance his studies.
“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 said.
A close family member of Woodroffe declined to comment on Woodroffe’s death in a Facebook message to The Canadian Press.
In December 2015, Winnipeg resident Joshua Stevens 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.
Stevens, 31, said he found relief from a rash that covered 40 per cent of his body by drinking the brew at a ceremony in Winnipeg and went to the Phoenix Ayahuasca retreat near the town of Iquitos to “pay homage to the natives down there and to learn with them.”
He and British tourist Unais Gomes, 25, drank the hallucinogenic brew, but things quickly went wrong, Stevens said.
Gomes attacked the Canadian and two workers at the retreat with a large butcher knife and Stevens said he was forced to make a life-or-death decision to stab the British man, who died a short time later.
“I still have a hard time with it myself because on one hand I was cured and on the other hand what happened to me and what happened with this man, it’s making me wonder and question it,” Stevens said. “I’m not sure what to think of it because I hold very dearly onto the suffering I had for three years and I was able to receive relief through the plant, so I’m confused about it.”
The British newspaper The Guardian reported that police concluded Stevens had acted in self-defence.
Also in 2015, Canadian Jennifer Logan died in Peru after drinking a “tobacco purge” tea at the Canto Luz Centre outside Puerto Maldonado.
Logan’s sister said the tea was not the hallucinogenic ayahuasca, but it caused the 32-year-old to vomit until she lost consciousness. The centre described her reaction to the tea as “extreme and unusual.”
Initial autopsy results found Jennifer Logan died of pulmonary edema, an accumulation of fluid in the lungs that can cause respiratory failure.