3 people charged with murdering a Hmong American comedian last month in Colombia

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Three people have been jailed in the kidnapping and killing of a Hmong American comedian and activist who was found dead near Medellín after going out to meet a woman he reportedly met on social media, Colombian officials announced Thursday.

The Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement that two men and a woman were charged with the crimes of aggravated kidnapping for extortion and aggravated homicide in the death last month of Tou Ger Xiong, 50. The suspects denied the charges at a hearing, the statement said.

A minor who presented himself to the Public Prosecutor’s Office admitting to having participated in the crime also was charged in the case and transferred to a special detention center for minors, it added.

The U.S. Embassy in Bogota warned a week ago about Colombian criminals who use dating apps to lure victims and then assault and rob them. The embassy said it was aware of eight suspicious deaths of U.S. citizens in Medellín in the final two months of 2023, several involving the use of online dating apps.

According to the Bush Foundation, Xiong was an Hmong American comedian who shared his personal story to confront racial discrimination.

Xiong arrived in Medellín on Nov. 29 as a tourist and 12 days later his body was found with signs of violence in the Robledo area, northwest of Medellín.

A report by the Colombian forensic science institute, cited by the Prosecutor’s Office, concluded he died from injuries inflicted by a blunt object.

In its reconstruction of events, the Prosecutor’s Office said Xiong was held against his will by several people on the night of Dec. 10 in an apartment in Robledo. During his captivity, he was tied up, tortured, beaten and stripped of his credit cards, a cellphone, cash and a watch, it said.

The sectional director of the prosecutor’s office in Medellín, Yiri Milena Amado Sánchez, said the captors demanded thousands of dollars from Xiong's family and one of his friends in the United States, who transferred $3,140 to a woman’s account.

Despite the immediate payment, Xiong was taken to a wooded area, where he was beaten and then thrown off a cliff about 80 meters (260 feet) high, prosecutors said. His body was found Dec. 11.

The PayPal account belonged to Sharit Gisela Mejía Martínez, and she tried to flee out a window of her apartment when investigators arrived to question her, a prosecutor told the hearing.

Following the killing, the activist’s family said in a statement that “the pain of his loss is indescribable.”

Xiong was born in Laos in 1973. His family fled to Thailand after the communist takeover in 1975 because his father had served in a U.S-backed Hmong military force, according to a 2020 profile of him in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. They spent four years in a refugee camp in Thailand before resettling in St. Paul, Minnesota, which is home to the largest Hmong community of any city in the U.S.