UPDATE: This story has been updated with new information from Temple of the Way of Light.
A Canadian man who went to the Amazon rainforest to study plant medicine has been killed after being attacked by a lynch mob in Peru. Sebastian Woodroffe, 41, was accused of killing a respected healer from an Indigenous group in the country—his name and face were printed on a wanted poster offering a reward, sparking the attack.
A blurry cell phone video used by local media shows a disturbing image: a man being dragged through a puddle of mud with a rope around his neck as a crowd watches and people shout. The man, according to Peruvian officials, was Woodroffe.
The ombudsman office of Peru has publicly referred to the killing, which took place in the Ucayali region, as a “lynching.” Woodroffe’s body was found in a makeshift grave and identified by officials.
Woodroffe was accused of killing Olivia Arévalo Lomas. Arévalo was part of the Shipibo-Konibo people, was in her 80s, and has been described as an Indigenous activist and shaman. Early media reports said Arévalo worked at a healing centre that offered ayahuasca retreats, Temple of the Way of Light, where she worked between 2009 and 2011. Temple of the Way of Light has issued a statement clarifying Arévalo was no longer working at the retreat centre and the incident did not occur there. Woodroffe has been reported as Arévalo's client, though this was not at Temple of the Way of Light.
Arévalo was reportedly shot multiple times after singing a curing song on Thursday. Locals named Woodroffe as her murderer. He was killed on Friday.
Woodroffe, who reportedly grew up in the Comox Valley of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, originally travelled to Peru in 2013 on quest to learn about plant medicine, particularly the hallucinogenic brew ayahuasca. He’d come back to Canada and returned to Peru several times since his initial trip. He wished to become an addictions counsellor—a decision, he said in a YouTube video, brought on by participating in an intervention for a family member who had been struggling with alcohol.
On his YouTube channel “Sacred Circle,” Woodroffe talks about how he had pursued “guy jobs” up until that point in his life: fishing, diving, tree-planting, building houses. His Instagram account shows photos of a boat he said he worked on in 2016.
“In retrospect, everything I’ve ever done has been trying to achieve this normalcy that doesn’t exist,” Woodroffe says in a 2013 YouTube video titled “Addiction Help.” His YouTube channel also includes videos about picking wild chanterelle mushrooms, including one with his young child.
“I’m just totally dedicated to this,” Woodroffe says in the “Addiction Help” video, which accompanied an Indiegogo campaign to fund his travels to Peru. He raised over $2,000 with the campaign. “This is what I want to make my life’s work,” he said.
But, an old friend of Woodroffe’s, Yarrow Willard, told CBC that he had returned from Peru “troubled” after taking ayahuasca. Willard called Woodroffe a person “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 described disbelief that Woodroffe could have been involved in the Amazonian shaman’s death. He said Woodroffe had never had a gun.
“We’ve just been in shock,” he said. “It just felt like a scam because there is no way this person is capable of that.”
Woodroffe was back in Canada in 2017. He posted on his personal Facebook page in July “reaching out” and asking if any friends wanted to see him. His Facebook page is populated by spiritual and nature-themed posts and images.
The head of a prosecutor group in the region Woodroffe was killed in, Ricardo Palma Jimenez, told Reuters that he died by strangulation, was beaten, and his body was found a kilometre from Arévalo’s home.
“We want the people of the Amazon to know that there is justice,” Jimenez told a TV news station in Peru, “but not justice by their own hands.”
“We will not rest until both murders, of the Indigenous woman as well as the Canadian man, are solved,” Jimenez told Reuters.
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