LIMA (Reuters) – Prosecutors in Peru suspect that a Canadian man murdered a revered indigenous medicine woman in an Amazonian village last week before being lynched in retribution, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office said on Tuesday.
Olivia Arevalo, an 81-year-old shaman of the Shipibo-Conibo tribe, was shot to death near her home in the region of Ucayali on Thursday, prompting outrage from villagers who blamed Sebastian Woodroffe, a native of Vancouver Island.
Prosecutors had initially been pursuing several potential leads into who killed Arevalo.
But their main hypotheses now is that Woodroffe murdered Arevalo because he was upset that her son had not repaid him 14,000 soles ($4,335), said Ricardo Jimenez, the head of a regional group of prosecutors.
Authorities found a document showing that Woodroffe bought a gun on April 3 from a police officer, Jimenez said, adding that the police officer is now being sought for questioning.
A witness also testified that a silver-colored pistol fell from a backpack that Woodroffe was carrying as villagers grabbed him before the lynching, Jimenez said.
“We want to see if that weapon actually existed. We haven’t found it yet but we’re looking,” Jimenez said. “With the new evidence that has appeared, he is the main suspect.”
Neither Woodroffe’s nor Arevalo’s family could be reached for comment.
Arevalo was considered a wealth of knowledge about Amazonian plants and native traditions.
Yarrow Willard, a friend of Woodroffe’s in Canada, said Woodroffe was not violent and had never used a gun. “He was a loving father and kind man who was not capable of the crimes he was accused of,” Willard said in an email.
Willard said Woodroffe had gone to Peru “seeking healing as he was feeling troubled and slightly lost.”
The case has spotlighted surging tourism in Peru’s Amazon related to the hallucinogenic plant brew ayahuasca, which has long been used by tribes in spiritual and healing rituals and is now popular among foreigners seeking vivid spiritual experiences or help with addiction.
Woodroffe traveled to Peru to learn about ayahuasca and plant medicine so he could become an addictions counselor, according to his post on the crowdfunding website Indiegogo.com.
Tests of Woodroffe’s remains are expected to determine if he fired a weapon or was intoxicated before dying. Authorities have expedited the laboratory work and results are now expected this week, instead of in more than two weeks as initially estimated, Jimenez said.
Two men sought by police for allegedly lynching Woodroffe appear to have fled, Jimenez said.
In 2015, a Canadian killed a friend in self-defense during an ayahuasca session. In 2012, an 18-year-old U.S. citizen died after taking the drug and workers at an ayahuasca retreat tried to hide his body.
(Reporting by Mitra Taj; editing by Dan Grebler and Leslie Adler)