British Columbia

Canadian allegedly lynched in Peru 'gentle' seeker of 'deeper meaning,' friend says

Family and friends of a Vancouver Island man believe that he was killed in Peru in an alleged lynching by people who thought he was involved in the shooting death of an 81-year-old traditional healer.

Sebastian Woodroffe described as 'gentle' loving father with 'a big personality'

Sebastian Woodroffe of Vancouver Island is believed to be the Canadian killed in Peru that Global Affairs Canada is looking into. (Sebastian Woodroffe/CBC)

A friend fears that a man allegedly lynched in Peru is his friend of 12 years, Sebastian Woodroffe, whom he describes as a gentle person on a journey to find enlightenment.

Yarrow Willard said the Comox Valley-area man had travelled to Peru several times to experiment with ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic drink, at rainforest retreats.

Ayahuasca, a concoction combining an Amazonian vine and dimethyltryptamine (DMT), is not normally associated with violence.

On Saturday night, Willard learned that Woodroffe is feared dead in Peru, the place he went seeking "deeper meaning."

Global Affairs Canada has not yet confirmed his identity, though the death of a Canadian has been confirmed. Peruvian authorities released Woodroffe's name.

The 41-year-old was allegedly lynched by people in the Ucayali region of the Amazon rainforest, who Peruvian authorities say believed that Woodroffe was involved in the shooting death of an 81-year-old traditional healer.

Olivia Arevalo Lomas of the Shipibo-Conibo ethnic group, an Indigenous healer and rights activist, was fatally shot on Thursday and Peruvian authorities described Woodroffe as her 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," said Willard.

Traditional healer and elder Olivia Arevalo Lomas of the Shipibo-Conibo Indigenous people of Peru was shot and killed at her home by an unknown assailant or assailants. (Temple of the Way of Light/YouTube)

Word of this sent Willard searching for news of his friend. That's when he watched the online video purportedly showing a man being lynched.

He said he's barely slept since witnessing the sickening attack on a man who seems to moan the word mother, as he is allegedly about to die. It is difficult to identify the attack victim's face, but Willard believes it is Woodroffe.

Woodroffe grew up in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island.

In recent years, he worked odd jobs and did some professional diving, living around Courtenay and Cumberland, at times in an RV, said Willard.

A man who 'tests the boundaries'

Woodroffe's son often played with Willard's child.

"He is a little bit of a, I'll call it a shit 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. This man has never had a gun or talked about anything along that line."

Peruvian news reports suggest that Woodroffe was killed by a group in reprisal for his suspected involvement in the brutal shooting of Arevalo Lomas.

Her killing has sparked outrage, following other unsolved murders of Indigenous activists who had repeatedly faced death threats related to efforts to keep illegal loggers and oil palm growers off Indigenous peoples' lands.

A Colombian healer measures a dose of the psychoactive drink ayahuasca in preparation for a healing ceremony. Ayahuasca is traditionally brewed from plants found in the jungles of South America. (Eitan Abramovich/AFP/Getty Images)

The elder from the Shipbo-Conibo ethnic group died at her home in the Ucayali region of the Peruvian Amazon rainforest.

Willard can't believe his friend — the attentive father of a nine-year-old boy — could be involved in a murder or any violence.

"This is not right at all," said Willard.

Willard said contacts in Peru told him Arevalo Lomas was attracting tourist dollars and could have been a target of many political forces. She advocated for the environment and had recently opened up a lucrative healing centre offering ayahuasca experiences to so-called "gringos."

Willard fears that his friend, who could be "disruptive" may have become a scapegoat in the complex political environment around this kind of tourism.

"He was a big personality," he said.

Friends say Woodroffe, who first travelled to Peru in 2016 to find natural healing and plant medicines, had become more distant after trying ayahuasca.

"He had a beautiful spark to him that people respected and loved," Willard said.

But Willard said he'd come back from experiences in South America "not broken, but troubled."

Woodroffe's family, who have been contacted by Peruvian and Canadian authorities, declined comment at this time.


Yvette Brend

CBC journalist

Yvette Brend works in Vancouver on all CBC platforms. Her investigative work has spanned floods, fires, cryptocurrency deaths, police shootings and infection control in hospitals. “My husband came home a stranger,” an intimate look at PTSD, won CBC's first Jack Webster City Mike Award. Got a tip?

With files from CBC's Carly Thomas