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“Drugged, robbed, …”: How US tourists looking for love are getting killed in Colombia | World News – Times of India

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A chilling pattern has emerged in Colombia, mainly in Medellin, where Americans seeking romance on dating apps are facing fatal consequences. Families, left in anguish and confusion, demand clarity as they navigate the aftermath of these enigmatic tragedies.
Medellín’s allure, with its vibrant nightlife and cultural richness, has a sinister counterpart. Stories of foreigners drugged, robbed, and even murdered after encounters initiated on dating apps are surfacing with alarming frequency. The use of scopolamine, notoriously known as “Devil’s Breath,” highlights the predatory strategies endangering those drawn to the city’s charm.
Driving the news
A series of mysterious deaths involving Americans in Colombia has been linked to the use of dating apps, raising concerns about the safety of tourists in the country.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Tou Ger Xiong, a Hmong-American community activist and comedian from Minnesota, was one of the eight Americans who died under suspicious circumstances in Medellin in November and December last year.
He had been chatting with a woman online during his latest visit to the city, and asked his brother for $2,000 without explaining why. The next day, his body was found in a remote wooded area. He had been kidnapped and shot for ransom, according to a local friend.
“It’s surreal that in a place so beautiful, my brother died,” Xiong’s older brother, Eh Xiong, told the WSJ.
The big picture
The US embassy in Colombia has warned about the dangers of using dating apps, as some of them have been used by criminals to lure victims into traps, where they are drugged, robbed, and even killed.
The US State Department has acknowledged the existence of a gang in the city that has previously used dating apps to target people for abduction and murder. It is unclear if the same gang is behind the recent deaths of Americans.
In the first 10 months of 2023, Medellin’s tourism observatory recorded 32 violent deaths of foreigners in the city, including at least 12 Americans and three British nationals, a 40% increase from the previous year.
As per a BBC report, Jeff Hewett was found “lifeless in a pool of blood” in his hotel room, his friends wrote online, describing him as “an easy-going, wry, kind soul” and a victim of a “robbery gone wrong.”
Johny Jerome died on his 45th birthday. Phillip Mullins overdosed after being drugged, according to local news reports.
In Colombia, where prostitution is legal, it is a common occurrence in tourist-frequented areas such as Medellin and Cartagena. Nonetheless, there is no substantiated information indicating that the men who passed away were involved in prostitution.
What they’re saying
Carlos Calle, the former director of the city’s tourism observatory, said that it is common for criminals to use scopolamine, an odorless substance also known as “Devil’s Breath,” to incapacitate tourists.
The US embassy has also warned about this drug, which can sedate people for up to 24 hours. “There’s a negative stereotype of tourists in the city looking for certain types of opportunities,” Calle said. This is often associated with sex work, he said.
What’s next
Medellín’s municipal police and Mayor Federico Gutierrez have been tight-lipped about the recent rise in violent deaths but emphasize the city’s commitment to attracting foreign visitors while combating issues like sex trafficking of minors and the negative stereotype of tourists seeking certain types of opportunities.
The city, which has seen a robust rebound in tourism and has become a prime destination for remote workers, is grappling with the dual challenge of promoting a safe and welcoming environment for tourists while addressing the criminal elements that prey on them.
A spokesperson for the tourism observatory said that the “majority” of last year’s victims were men, but also noted that many cases are still under investigation.
Prostitution is legal in Colombia and common in tourist areas like Medellin and Cartagena. However, there is no evidence to suggest that the deceased men were involved in prostitution.
As the city continues to navigate these challenges, the families of the victims, like Eh Xiong, seek solace and justice, remembering their loved ones not for the tragic end of their stories but for the vibrant lives they led and the joy they found in the city of Medellín.
As per the BBC report, Eh Xiong recently embarked on his first journey to Medellin, where he conducted a Hmong ceremony aimed at calling his brother’s spirit to return home.
“We don’t harbor resentment towards the people of Colombia,” he said. “I firmly believe that he would have pardoned those who wronged him.”
(With inputs from agencies)

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