Americans Brutally Attacked in Peru, But Skeptics Question Account

Jed Wolfrom and Meghan Doherty in Ecuador before the attack in Peru. 

“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,” a blogger posted to the site Adventure Americaslast week. The writer was Jennifer Lynne Wolfrom, a 30-year-old Jackson Hole resident and fundraiser for the nonprofit Jackson Hole Land Trust, and the tale she went on to tell, titled Nightmare in Peru, was one of extended terror and torture at the hands of villagers in the mountainous Ausangate region near Machu Picchu. It was a story of such extreme, strange, and nonsensical violence that some readers have wondered if it’s actually true.

Wolfrom was visiting her brother Jed Wolfrom and his wife Meghan Doherty in Cuzco. The couple had spent the previous nine months road-tripping through Latin America in their camper truck. They tooled around Cuzco for a few days before heading into the mountains on Christmas day to hike a portion of the Ausangate Mountain trek, which is known as a less-touristy alternative to the Inca Trail providing access to lesser-known pre-historic ruins.

It was on the evening of December 29, their fifth day in the mountains and Jennifer’s 30th birthday, that events took a bizarre turn. At dusk, they pulled into the village of Pallcca; almost immediately they were approached by two locals. The Americans asked if it was okay to camp there, and they were assured it was. But within minutes, the villagers were blowing whistles to summon friends, neighbors, and the village leader, who they called Presidente. This group, which Wolfrom identified as indigenous to the region, demanded to see the Americans’ documents. When they refused to hand them over and tried to drive away, the villagers blockaded the road and began throwing rocks at their truck and assaulting them.

Wolfrom wrote, “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.”

The attack continued for 11 hours. They were whipped with ropes beaten, held at gunpoint, and a villager shot a gun in their direction. The truck was trashed, each of them was bloodied, and more than $10,000 in gear was stolen. Wolfrom’s brother lost his front teeth, Wolfrom was hit in the head with a plank, and her sister in law was struck with stones and kicked in the back. By now the villagers had confiscated their passports, credit cards, and all other valuables.

The Americans were then forced to sign a document clearing the villagers of any wrongdoing. “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,” Wolfrom wrote. “However, the extent of our injuries and the condition of the car far surpasses anything that could happen by driving into a grassy ditch.”

Eventually, the federal police arrived and took them to a nearby hospital, where Wolfrom said they received rudimentary medical care, including 100 stitches between the three of them. As of January 4, Wolfrom was in Lima awaiting a flight back to Wyoming, and Jed and Meghan were also planning to leave Peru. They have received words of support from blog readers and commenters on the websites of Jackson Hole Weekly and Britain’s The Daily Mail, which have covered their ordeal. (The story also made it into the pages of the Peruvian paper, El Comercio.) But the bizarre nature of their experience also brought out skeptics, and the trio has had to defend itself against accusations that events didn’t happen as described.

“So many holes in this story, where to begin?” one Jackson Hole Weekly commenter wrote. “If true (?) clearly these American tourists were oblivious to how much they were flaunting their American exceptionalism,” another chimed in. “If they go on the Today show or seek further publicity then we know they’re looking for their 15 minutes of fame,” a commenter identified only as OT wrote. “This story is so unbelievable on every level.”

Friends and family have steadfastly stood by the trio. “I know this seems unbelievable,” Jasper Quin, a friend of Jennifer Wolfrom, responded. “But sadly it is true and they are still trying to get back to the U.S.”

In an interview with Jackson Hole Weekly, Jennifer Wolfrom defended her story and shot down allegations that she and her brother and sister-in-law had fabricated the details for financial gain, as some of their detractors had charged.

“Many people are criticizing us for the fund that was set up in our name saying that we did this for money,” Wolfrom was quoted as saying, referring to a fundraising effort that reportedly raised $12,000 to help get them out of the country. “We did not ask for money from any of our friends. This was something that our loved ones did on their own because they felt helpless and wanted to do something.”

In the most recent post on Adventure Americas, Jed and Meghan’s blog about their travel experiences, Meghan wrote about their shock over the ordeal: “There are bad people everywhere in the world, in every country, just as there is good everywhere in the world. We just happened to enter in to the wrong place at the wrong time. We in no way reflect this situation on the country as a whole and hope that others will react in the same manner.”

One person who was convinced of the veracity of their story from the get-go was Wyoming State Senator Leland Christensen. According to the Jackson Hole Daily, Christensen and U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis worked with the U.S. State Department to help secure their departure from Peru. “When I read the first account,” Christensen told the paper, “it was just shocking.”

{ 24 comments…read them below or write one }

  • bpbuck

    As one of Jenny’s friends and co-workers in Jackson, I cannot express how upset I am that people are calling the Wolfrom’s injuries and trauma a scam. As they said, good people can run into bad situations anywhere in the world, and good people they are. In no way does Jenny’s character reflect one that would try to make a profit and never did they directly ask for money. What matters is that our loved ones are in an unimaginable situation and that we as a community do what we can to help them out.

  • Tom

    I find it entirely credible. Lucky they got away with their lives. I hope the U.S. Embassy in Lima is putting pressure on the Peruvian government to investigate. The story certainly makes me think twice about visiting Peru as a tourist.

  • Karen @ Trans-Americas Journey

    As folks on a road trip headed to Peru we read this account with horror and puzzlement last week after a friend forwarded a link to us. We are horrified by the details given about the attack but we’re puzzled at the lack of a motive and by the victims’ lack of curiosity or puzzlement at the lack of a motive. We’re not ready to say that we think the attack was fabricated or embellished in any way but any lingering uneasiness about the validity would be eased by some examination of WHY this happened. That seems to be the biggest hole or missing piece here–and a crucial one.

  • Jill

    It’s shocking to hear this kind of account and, I must admit, I don’t find it entirely credible. Having travelled in the Ausangate region, I experienced nothing ever approaching hostility or even a cold shoulder. I just can’t picture a town of regular people mounting the reported attack. While it is true that bad things happen to good people everywhere, I find the account of an entire town reacting like this for apparently no reason extremely hard to understand. That is the part that doesn’t sit well with me.

  • Lin

    I know the Wolfroms personally and as someone who cares for their physical and mental well-being, it saddens and frustrates me to know that their intregrity is being questioned during such a traumatic time. There is nothing held in the character of any one of these three people that would ever think to fabricate anything for money- ever. I think the question on everyone’s mind is WHY this happened, and it seems that no one has an answer just yet. Hopefully with help from the Peruvian government that question and more can be answered through ongoing investigations.

  • Steve

    This story is absolutly ridiculous.
    So I’m guessing they are presently in custidy down there for DUI and crashing thier truck?

  • Donnie MacKenzie

    What I find amazing is people standing on the side line who have a hard time believing this story. I am in the middle of riding my motorcycle down to South America from North America. Come on folks, let’s not be so naive! Have you ever heard of “crowd mentality”? The first thing to realize is, this kind of thing could have happened anywhere down here. It shouldn’t keep us from traveling. This kind of thing happens in LA, NYC. People are people! When you travel, you just have to be smart and not be out there after sunset. Shorten up your exposure. But don’t come down hard on these three Americans. The only mistake they made was not being buttoned down before sunset. They didn’t do anything wrong. We are always trying to find blame. It happened and it was a very unfortunate thing. I feel very badly for them, I mean the poor guy got his front teeth smashed out! Let’s show a bit of compassion and respect. This young couple had come all this way…doing a lot of right things. I admire them and I hope this doesn’t dampen their spirit for adventure or anyone else.

  • cafebmw

    why should this story not be credible?? nothing in that report raises any doubts in me. whoever has doubts either doesn’t travel or travels in complete naivety. sorry, what the wolfroms are telling could have totally happened. especially in those regions. the first time ever i got mugged, strangle mugged in that case, was in cuzco. for more than 20 years i backpacked, often off the beaten tracks, got into sketchy situations one or twice, but more or less i carried on with a certain portion of naivety. that incident though open my eyes.
    i spent more than 2 months in cuzco and hung out only with locals. they themselves experienced a few brutal attacks. in many mountain villages in the andes inhabitants can be very stand-offish to a degree where one finds him/herself very alienated. one must not forget what the incas experienced at the hand of the spaniards!! maybe the locals in the village had a party and they were drunk themselves. that could easily explain the behaviour the wolfroms experienced.

  • Truethat

    I’m very upset for what happened with the Wolfrom’s family. Even thought it was an excelent idea to pursuing an adventure crossing the whole american continent such they have done, part of the risk in Latinamerica are violence, drug trafficking and insecurity. For example, crossing Colombia would be a worst nightmare if they were in areas where armed groups occupy their territory. Peru is a peaceful country but there are statistics that some drug organizations have attacked these small villages and hurt their people. Peru is a developed country that does not have a huge security system that protect these areas. This is also noticed in other latinoamerican countries. Therefore these villages are organized as a self defense community where anybody could be trusted such as any stranger because they can be a presunt-drug dealer. We can’t dichotomize our world between good and evil, we need to understand that having such a long trip plan and not having social-political facts by country can bring these incidents. I send my prayers to the Wolfrom’s family and I hope they can recover for this bad experience.

  • Overland Traveler in South America

    Interview featured on the Today Show: http://video.today.msnbc.msn.com/today/50585772

    Pictures of the damage: http://www.caretas.com.pe/Main.asp?T=3082&w=1&idG=62423&Idx=0#top

    I hope that these horrifying photos and interviews of the victims show the monsters who keep harassing the Wolfstroms that they truly experienced a nightmare in Peru. Desktop thugs have been leaving nasty remarks on their personal blog, Facebook page, or in the comments section of every article that has covered their story so far. Have some compassion and let the victims heal before throwing verbal “stones” at them.

    I am disappointed that the Today Show correspondent went all the way to Peru for this interview but didn’t take the time to interview any of the villagers.

  • Shannon

    I don’t find this difficult to believe at all. My surprise is that it doesn’t happen more often. America has a long history of wrong-doing in many countries, and there is lingering resentment for some of the policies our government has pursued in the past. Unfortunately, this frustration is taken out on tourists. Also, what we Americans tend to view as the “charming” indigenous people, are really a nation’s disenfranchised poor- such as these villagers. But you don’t have to travel to Peru to see this. Try backpacking in one of America’s dangerous inner cities, and you’ll witness firsthand how this anger and resentment plays out.

  • Sancho Panza

    After seeing the U.S. reaction to the attack in Benghazi, no American traveling or residing overseas should expect more protection from any embassy than it would give its own ambassador.

  • Erick

    I have visited Peru 5 times. Cuzco and the mountains are one of the most peaceful and safe places to be in South America. I found this story completely HARD to believe!

  • Fred P

    A previous poster questioned motive for the villagers attack. Having lived in Peru and Ecuador I can tell you with no uncertainty that there is DEEP seeded hatred amoung the indigenous poor towards the “rich gringo”. Justified or not it’s there, 100%. Having spent ten years in South America and having visited a majority of the countries Peru, from my experience, was the country that posed the most danger to travelers. Yes there is the potential for danger in all countries, the US included of course. And perhaps it’s because of the very high tourist numbers that visit Peru and the Cusco area but I always hears stories of tourists getting jacked in that country. I have had a personal experience as have good friends of mine with taxi drivers at night coordinating theft of their passengers. That the US Consulate failed to act angers me very much.

  • HTuttle

    The skeptics sound like the usual bigots. Had the women been raped surely these same would be blaming them for flaunting their ‘sexy clothing’.

  • HTuttle

    “Blame America”
    Given that prevailing attitude of the Liberal society and media is it any wonder that there’s so much animosity towards Americans?

    Open societies look bad because they allow viewing their dirty laundry while closed societies look all clean and shiny since criticism is dealt with severely, hence the Left’s lover for communism.

  • curiousgeorge

    Im not blaming them but that kind of tourism is really risky. I lived in peru for well over a year much of it spent in remote areas in the mountains and I would not feel safe at all doing what these people did. I don’t care if you were fine wherever you went for a week or so on vacation, anyone who really knows peru understands that you don’t just go off and trek around. especially if you are american. heck you cant even trust the police.

  • Manuel

    I have lived in rural Mexico for three years with indigenous people. While nothing to this extent has ever happened to me, I believe the tail. Signing a document claiming innocence of the wrong doer is a common practice in Latin America. Many Organizations including the catholic churches local representatives make people hire letters stating their reasons for resigning from a job, before they are hired so they can be fired later for any reason ranging from pregnancy to a personal disagreement.
    While I consider travel in rural Latin America much safer than most people would believe, there is a kind of international prejudice against Americans that sometimes culminates in violence against individuals. I am very proud to live in Latin America, my father is from Puerto Rico, and obviously, if I didn’t like the region, I wouldn’t choose to live here. However that is not to say that All Americans are bad guys and all locals are victims. I think people who have only traveled in other countries and not lived there should consider that the experience they have is the “tourist experience” and very rarely see how the locals really feel about foreigners. Before people start throwing accusations at these people, people should consider the fact that this kind of stuff does happen, and these people could be telling the truth. I have friends who served in the Peace Corps (I do not) who had similar experiences in very rural villages in Latin America. There’s a kind of violent, xenophobic redneck that exists everywhere, not just the inner sanctum of the KKK. I for one would like to see more evidence that it happened, before I decide that it did. But I certainly wouldn’t say that it didn’t. Best of wishes to the victims.

  • Manuel

    I have lived in rural Mexico for three years with indigenous people. While nothing to this extent has ever happened to me, I believe the tale Signing a document claiming innocence of the wrong doer is a common practice in Latin America. Many Organizations including the catholic church’s local representatives make people hire letters stating their reasons for resigning from a job, before they are hired, so they can be fired later for any reason ranging from pregnancy to a personal disagreement. If its so common that even churches, hospitals, development NGOS and police departments can do it. Why not a mob of angry people? Especially since they have probably signed similar letters themselves.

    While I consider travel in rural Latin America much safer than most people would believe, there is a kind of international prejudice against Americans that sometimes culminates in violence against individuals. Sadly, as Americans are incredibly self critical, they tend to be the first to deny this.

    I am very proud to live in Latin America, my father is from Puerto Rico, and obviously, if I didn’t like the region, I wouldn’t choose to live here on $4,000 a year. However that is not to say that All Americans are bad guys and all locals are victims, a common attitude among people who live in or like the region. I think people who have only traveled in other countries and not lived there should consider that the experience they have is the “guest experience” and very rarely see how the locals really feel about foreigners.

    Before people start throwing accusations at these people, people should consider the fact that this kind of stuff does happen, and these people could be telling the truth. I have friends who served in the Peace Corps (I do not) who had similar experiences in very rural villages in Latin America. There’s a kind of violent, xenophobic redneck that exists everywhere, not just the inner sanctum of the KKK. I for one would like to see more evidence that it happened, before I decide that it did. But I certainly wouldn’t say that it didn’t. In rural Latin America the annual salary is far below a dollar day. Where I live the average family of five lives on less than $500 a year. You don’t need any more motivation than xenophobia, prejudice and $10,000 in gear. Best of wishes to the victims and may everyone else travel safely.

  • Manuel

    Just saw the photos. There’s no ways as a drunk driver, you drive into flying rocks. Sorry people this happened. Best of wishes to the young couple in their recovery. In hope this doesn’t turn them off to Latin America forever, but I wouldn’t blame them if it did.

  • paloma

    I am very sorry for this tragedy and I do believe the account of the victims. This is not very common considering the number of tourists visiting the area, but it is very possible. Although nothing justifies the agression, it is true that tourists should be aware of risks and that they can prevent this sort of situations. Maybe what they did is the equivalent to a female not covering herself in countries where they are traditionally secluded. Sure, ideally female seclusion should not exist, but it does and we should aware of this consequences. Many of this communities in the Andes are isolated, they have learned to protect themselves. I have noticed many people in those areas do not like to be treated as part of the “touristic attraction”, be taken pictures and bothered by foreigners. Sometimes as tourists we can be impertinent, and again, this are isolated communities! I do wonder about what provoked their reaction. Whatever it was, it doesn’t justify the aggression, but the aggression was definitely not spontaneous.

  • Martin

    What actually happened? According to their own blog, they drove their camper onto someone else’s property, camped there without permission, started drinking beer, and then sprayed the locals with Mace when they were confronted. If they’d done this in the US they could have legally been shot, and certainly could have been detained by local authorities. They should be ashamed of their irresponsible, illegal and naive actions.

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