“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.”