Peru’s attorney general has ordered the arrest of two suspects in the killing of a Vancouver Island man who travelled to the Amazon rainforest 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. On Monday, officials 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.
Woodroffe, who was from Cumberland on 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.
Friends of Woodroffe have posted messages of condolences on social media pages, and Woodroffe’s Facebook profile has changed to ‘Remembering Sebastian Woodroffe.’
Yarrow Willard, a close friend of Woodroffe, said in a Facebook message he was a loving father and kind man, “who was not capable of the crimes he was accused of.”
Friend Brodie Dawson echoed Willard’s statement.
“(Sebastian) was well-loved in the community and he was a sweet and loving person, and … this was very out of character for him,” she noted.
-With files from Erin Haluschak