As many people are already aware, Jed and I and my sister in law, Jenny have been through a very traumatic experience here in Peru. I wanted to put this out there to first of all let everyone know that we are safe and recovering in Cusco. We have suffered injuries, but we will all be able to recover fully physically. Below is an account of the incident written up by Jenny to an agency who is set up to help travelers who experience violence abroad. We have yet to hear back from them. We have had a lot requests from people who want to help. We have a meeting with the tourist police, Cusco police, Consolate in Cusco and the police from the small town this afternoon. Based on what we learn from this, we will update you on ways you could help. Thank you for all your support and please share the story epecially to any travelers.
My name is Jennifer Lynne Wolfrom. I am a US citizen, a resident of the state of Wyoming, currently visiting Cuzco, Peru and the surrounding areas and I am a victim of an act of extreme violence towards myself, my brother (Joseph Palmer Wolfrom III), and my sister in law (Meghan Moore Doherty). Joseph and Meghan have been driving for nine months from the United States through Central and South America, camping almost every night in their truck camper and have not yet experienced any violence or danger until this situation which occurred from December 29 to December 30, 2012. I flew into Cuzco, Peru on December 22, 2012 to meet my brother and his wife for a 10-day vacation. We stayed in Cuzco for a few days and then went into the mountains to hike a portion of the Asungate Mountain trek. We were in the mountains from December 25 to December 29.
On December 29, 2012, we left the mountains to drive back to Cuzco and towards our next destination of Macchu Picchu. It was getting dark and we knew that driving in the dark was dangerous, so we pulled down a dirt road to camp in the camper on the back of their truck. We pulled into a flat spot near a bridge in the village of Pallcca in the region of Ocongate, Peru at about 6:30 PM. We were drinking two beers between the three of us because it was my 30th birthday and we were celebrating. We were almost immediately approached by two village residents, who were friendly and who we asked if it was ok to park and camp where we had. They said yes. Soon, the two men were blowing whistles and using their cell phones to alert their friends of our presence and many more village residents started gathering around us, including the man who they called the Presidente. We recognized that he was the leader of the community and Meghan asked him directly if we could camp there and he said Yes. We were soon surrounded by indigenous village people who started asking us to give them our documents. We refused to show them our documents as they weren´t Policia and we were getting nervous about their pushiness and decided to leave. We told them we would leave and got into the truck. They wouldn´t let my brother shut his door and started picking up rocks. Joseph finally got his door shut and we drove off quickly in the opposite direction of where we came hoping that the road would lead us away.
The road ended at a school about 10 minutes after we started driving. There was a man there and we asked him if we could camp and he said no, so we had to turn around and start driving back towards where we first encountered the mob. Soon we were approached by two motor bikes coming from the village and many people on foot. They started approaching the vehicle and we asked them if we could please leave. They said they would not let us leave and then started throwing rocks at the truck and building a rock blockade on the road in front of us. We drove over the first blockade and there were villagers up on the hill above the road continuing to throw rocks at the truck. They threw a large rock through the passenger window, breaking it and hitting me in the face and cutting my jaw. They also threw a rock through the driver’s side window, hitting my brother. We soon were met with another large road blockade of boulders that we could not drive through. At this blockade they threw rocks at the windshield and destroyed it. We veered off the road to try to drive around the blockade and got stuck in a huge ditch and could not drive anymore. We were being bombarded with rocks and had to escape from the vehicle. We had two cans of bear spray between the three of us so we used that in self-defense to be able to get out of the truck to start running from the village. We got out of the truck and started running and were immediately attacked by villagers who were throwing rocks at our heads and chasing us with blinding flashlights and sticks. It very much seemed like a planned organized attack with each of the villagers blowing whistles signaling other villagers to come out and join the chase. There were at least 30 people chasing us and throwing rocks at us at one point. We were running for our lives for between 30 minutes to an hour through the village hills and rivers. We were each struck multiple times by rocks in the head and all over our bodies. We eventually were surrounded by villagers who continued to beat us until they decided to bring us back to the Presidente of the village. We were forced to walk back to meet the Presidente where we pleaded with him to let us go. At this point we were all bleeding severely from our heads and Joseph´s front teeth were knocked out and his eye blundered shut by a rock. It was raining and freezing and my brother had lost a shoe running through a river. After a long discussion between the villagers and the presidente, he demanded that we be forced to walk about a mile in the freezing rain back up to the village school. We told them that we would just leave and they could have all of our stuff, but they would not let us leave. During that time I was beaten in the head with a large board, Meghan was kicked in her back extremely hard, and rocks continued to be thrown at us.
At the village school we were initially surrounded by at least 40 of the men, women, and children of the village who all addressed the Presidente with their ideas of what they wanted to do with us. Many of the women and men were screaming that they wanted the village to kill us. We kept apologizing, pleading, and explaining ourselves in Spanish, but they would not listen and started to whip us with the ropes that they use to whip their animals. We were whipped and beaten for a few hours in between sessions of interrogation. They told us that we should have given them our documents, but we explained that typically we did not give non-official policia our documents. Many of the villagers were angry about us using the bear spray (mace), but we explained that it was self-defense and we only used it after being attacked with rocks and barricaded, forcing us to crash the truck. We told them we had been very scared when they attacked us in the truck with rocks and we apologized over and over for the miscommunication. During this time at the school we were forced to separate and they stripped us of our possessions on our persons which included my iPhone 5, my brother and sister in law´s driver´s licenses and debit cards. After a few hours of standing in the freezing rain, being whipped by villagers numerous times, and screamed at in their local language, we continued to plead for our lives, shivering and bleeding, and they eventually shut us inside the school. We again apologized and pleaded to leave without any of our belongings.
After less than an hour of being shut in the school, we were again brought out to circle of villagers of over 33 people (I counted at least 33 people that I could see but there were many in the back ground- including young children). We immediately saw that there were at least three villagers that had at least three guns, one that we know was a 20 or 12 gauge shot gun. We tried to shield ourselves from the guns and again pleaded for them not to kill us. We were forced into the middle of the circle by men holding whips and we were held at gun point while again the villagers addressed the Presidente with their stories and ideas for our lives. At least one gun shot was shot towards us in the circle. The man with the 20 or 12 guage shot gun seemed to be an unofficial police or security guard for the village. We told him our story and spent another few hours in the middle of the circle while they decided what to do with us. It was at this point that lights were shined on our injuries and the villagers could see the extent of their violent acts. There was more discussion between the villagers and we were whipped again, with my brother taking most of the beating while trying to protect us. This last portion of the village gathering was photographed and recorded by many of the villagers. They were shining bright lights in our eyes, blinding us and taking pictures of our bloody faces and bodies, and recording the conversations on their phones. After another period of conversation and pleading, we were led to a table where we saw that they had written up their version of a story that they wanted us to sign for the police. Their accident report, written in Spanish, essentially said that we had been drinking and crashed our car, which is how the car got destroyed and how we got our injuries. However, the extent of our injuries and the condition of the car far surpasses anything that could happen by driving into a grassy ditch. They also pulled out all of our legal documents that they had stolen from the car, showed us they had them, and then confiscated them again. They still possess these documents.
We were convinced that the only way we would survive was to sign the report and assure the villagers that we would tell the police that it was a car accident that caused the damage to the truck and the injuries to our bodies. Once we convinced them that we would go along with their story, they had us sign the document and ink print our fingerprints. At around 5 am, after nearly 11 hours of being attacked, chased, beaten, whipped, and held at gun point without food, sleep, or water, we were led back to the truck. All of the windows and the windshield of the truck had been broken and the camper had been broken into and all of our belongings and documents were either stolen or thrown into the muddy ditch. We were told to wait for the police before we tried to get our truck out of the ditch. There were at least 15 villagers that stood with us at the truck until the police came. These villagers made us keep telling them that we would tell the police that it was an accident. At about 6:00 am, a man came who claimed he was the police and asked us to tell him what happened. He was clearly not a real policeman so we told him the same story that was written in the report to satisfy the villagers who were watching closely over us. This man tried to convince us to go back to the school to use a phone to call the hospital, but we refused because we felt it would bring another attack on our lives. At about 7:30 am four Policia National came to the scene of the accident. We told them the same story about crashing our truck and the policemen very clearly did not believe it. The Policia National took photos of every aspect of the accident, including the condition of the truck, the scene of the accident which very clearly shows the boulder barricade that the village set up to trap us, and close-up photos of our head injuries. The policemen helped us get our truck unstuck and we were escorted out in police vehicles at around 8:00 am. We were met by an ambulance that we were told was going to transport us to the city of Cuzco, which is what we wanted as there is better medical care there and we would feel much safer there as it was further away from the village. The police had told us that they would escort the ambulance to the city of Cuzco and would drive our truck to Cuzco so that we could get it fixed. Meanwhile, on the way out of the village that we were attacked in, the police picked up a truckload of villagers who could have very well been part of our attack and brought them along with them to the same town they were escorting us to. We felt extremely unsafe.
That morning of December 30, 2012, we were brought to the town of Ocongate, Peru and asked to get out of the ambulance. We said no, that we wanted to go to Cuzco and they told us they had to clean our wounds in the Ocongate medical clinic and then we would be brought to Cuzco. While we were being treated in Ocongate, which included about 100 stitches between the three of us (most of these stitches addressing head injuries), we kept requesting to be taken to Cuzco by either the police or the ambulance. The story kept changing and soon it became apparent that we were not going to be taken to Cuzco. We had asked in the clinic to be connected to someone at the US Embassy and finally a member of the policia connected us to Amy Bakal at the US Consulate in Cuzco. We explained our situation to Amy and told her we felt very unsafe in the town that we were in. We then found a translator and had the translator tell the policia our exact account of what happened. Once we had been able to tell our story to the US Consulate and to the policia national, we started getting better treatment and were eventually taken from the medical clinic to the police station where they fed us and allowed us to get clothes out of the truck to change into as we had been sitting in bloody, muddy, wet clothing for almost 24 hours at that point. We signed an initial police report that was written by the policia national in the Spanish language in the town of Ocongate. We have copies of this police report. We left the town of Ocongate at 6:30 pm and were brought by the policia national to Cuzco. We were promised by the mayor of the village that our truck would be brought to Cuzco after the investigation by the policia. However, when we met the consulate that night in Cuzco, our policia national escorts told the consulate that they would not be driving the truck to Cuzco.
The past few days, which should have been a time for us to mentally process what happened and regain strength, have been almost as tiring as the attack itself. We have spent at least 10 – 12 hour each day in different medical clinics being examined since we were not brought to the correct medical facility in Cuzco immediately after the attack. Without the truck we have had to take taxi cabs from each medical clinic, one which we were mandated to visit by the police which was an hour outside of the city we are currently staying in. We have not been able to eat properly as all of our time has been waiting for and meeting with doctors and trying to figure out how to access our money since all but one of our debit cards were stolen. We are staying in an overpriced hotel that is supposed to give us breakfast, but has refused serving us each morning. With all of our time spent in more important areas we have had not time to look for a different place to stay.
We spent yesterday, December 31, meeting with the Amy at the US Consulate and getting medical treatment at the Clinica San Jose in Cuzco, Peru. This treatment included checking our stitches and bruises, x-rays for my sister in law, and a cat scan for my brother. We were prescribed antibiotics and pain killers by the doctor. My brother will also need extensive dental work as four of his front teeth are either knocked out or severely damaged.
We have an appointment to meet with a legal doctor tomorrow, January 2, 2013, who will examine our injuries in order to be used in court testimonies. We are meeting with the police from Ocongate, the police from Cuzco, and Amy Bakal with the US Consulate on Thursday, January 3, to submit an official statement for the police report. I was supposed to fly back to the United States tomorrow, January 2, 2013, morning, but my passport, license, and all my money and debit cards were stolen during the attack. After the attack, I do not feel comfortable traveling alone to Lima to get to the Embassy so my brother and sister in law be will be accompanying me up to Lima after we make our statements to the police on Thursday over the weekend so that I can get my emergency passport and fly back to the United States early next week.
This situation has not only been extremely traumatic both mentally and physically, but has also become a huge financial burden for the three of us. We had thousands of dollars of possessions stolen from us during the attack, our medical bills and money spent on prescriptions as well as taxi cab travel and hotel bills are growing, the damage to the truck is extensive and will be costly, the cost of replacing my passport and changing my plane ticket will be in the hundreds of dollars, and I am missing an extra week of work pay because of the need to meet with the police and then the embassy to replace my passport before I can leave the country.
The bottom half of this letter has now been removed. I posted this letter that Jenny wrote in order to quickly release our story as it was the only written account I had immediate access to and didn’t have the time to write it out myself. The point of posting this letter was to get our story out so that the legal system in Peru would have to do somthing, as before we released it they were all twittling their thumbs hoping we would just go away. The point was not to ilicit for money just becuase we listed the items which were stolen from us!