Grad Student Who Was 'In The Wrong Place' Shot And Killed While Studying Plants

Gabriel Trujillo, a 31-year-old Ph.D. student doing fieldwork in Sonora, Mexico, was shot seven times in his car by an unknown suspect.

A Ph.D. student in botany at the University of California, Berkeley, is being remembered for his kindness, vibrant spirit and insatiable curiosity about the natural world after he was killed while studying plants in Sonora, Mexico.

Gabriel Trujillo, whose research focused on the buttonbush plant and how it might aid in habitat restoration, was shot seven times, his fiancée, Roxanne Cruz-de Hoyos, wrote on Instagram.

On June 23, police found his body in his car hours away from where he’d told Cruz-de Hoyos he was going, she said. Cruz de-Hoyos, who had flown to Mexico to find Trujillo after he didn’t reply to her calls or messages, later identified his remains, she said.

Local authorities were investigating the shooting, Berkeley officials said in a statement to the campus shared with HuffPost. “This is heartbreaking news and campus officials have reached out to his family to offer support and assistance,” it read.

No information has been released about a suspect or the circumstances of the shooting. Trujillo’s father, Anthony Trujillo, told the Associated Press, “Evidently he was in the wrong place.”

Gabriel Trujillo was pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley.
Gabriel Trujillo was pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley.

The U.S. State Department urges Americans to “reconsider travel” to Sonora because of the potential for violent crime and kidnapping, noting that it is a hub for the global drug trade and human trafficking.

But Sonora held a special meaning for Trujillo. He had been reconnecting to his Indigenous Opata and Nahua ancestry and loved being in Sonora, the traditional homeland of the Opata peoples, Cruz-de Hoyos said. Trujillo also participated in traditional Aztec dance and drumming with the Danza Azteca In Lak’ech in Berkeley, and the group dedicated a danza ceremony to him on Thursday.

Cruz de-Hoyos, who earned her Ph.D. in the same integrative biology program as Trujillo, said the couple intended to publicly announce their engagement once their custom rings arrived and were planning to start a family soon.

“Gabe was a passionate ecologist, field biologist, and advocate for diverse voices in science,” the chairs of the Integrative Biology Department said in an email to the department community shared with HuffPost. “He was a member of a tightly knit group of graduate students in ecology and his partner is also a member of our campus community. We all face a world that is less bright for this loss.”

“Gabriel’s love for culture was infectious.”

- Obituary for Gabriel Trujillo

Trujillo’s obituary notes his “passion for nature and culture and a relentless drive for science.”

“His deep appreciation for the natural world guided him to explore the wonders of the outdoors,” the obituary reads. “He found solace in the beauty of nature, always eager to learn and protect the environment he held so dear. Gabriel’s love for culture was infectious, and he immersed himself in learning about different traditions and customs, always seeking to broaden his understanding of the world.”

His father recalled how he shared his love of nature with his five siblings, nieces, and nephew.

“A 20-minute hike with me would take an hour because he would show me all the plants and mushrooms,” Anthony Trujillo told the AP. “He wanted to learn everything about everything.”

A funeral for Trujillo will be held in Fenton, Michigan, where his family is from, on July 5. Cruz de-Hoyos organized a GoFundMe to help cover funeral expenses and the cost of returning his body to the U.S. from Mexico.

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