LOS ANGELES, CA / Highland Park (June 29, 2023) – UC Berkeley Biologist Gabriel Richard Trujillo was shot and killed on June 19, 2023 in the mountains of Sonora, Mexico, as he gathered plant samples for his Ph.D. research on the evolutionary origins of Buttonwillow and how the plant could be used for wetland habitat restoration.
He was originally from Arizona, and moved as a child with his family to Michigan. He attended Lake Forest College in Chicago for his Bachelor’s Degree in Biology. He was a Ph.D. Candidate in the Integrative Biology Department at UC Berkeley. At Berkeley he met his future fiancée in 2019, Dr. Roxanne Cruz-de Hoyos, a National Science Foundation & Ford Postdoctoral Research Fellow. He strongly supported Los Angeles native Dr. Cruz-de Hoyos’ conservation efforts to restore native flora and fauna in the wildlife corridor of the open hillsides in North East Los Angeles. He was deeply committed to conserving these lands in perpetuity for the Kizh-Gabrielino Indigenous and local communities.
At Berkeley, he gained many friends and colleagues, both in the academic community and in the Indigenous Danza Azteca community. He was a mentor to many Berkeley undergraduate students in STEM and other programs. He often organized food donations and Covid relief work for the Indigenous Danza Azteca community and for the homeless. He participated in many Indigenous ceremonies throughout California and the Southwest. His indigenous self-awareness was part of the reason why he had gone to Sonora to reconnect with his Opata ancestral lands.
In 2023 he became engaged to Dr. Cruz-de Hoyos, and they had ordered their custom engagement rings before he left for Mexico on June 13. The couple had intended to announce their engagement and start their family when he returned from Mexico in August.
The last time he spoke with his fiancée was on Monday, June 19 in the morning, and he had agreed he’d text her to check in later that day. When he did not text her, his fiancée filed a missing person’s report with the Oakland Police Department, who were instrumental in contacting the Mexican authorities. His fiancée flew to Mexico to work with the authorities to launch the search for him. She contacted local Mexican biologists to search for him. It was a combination of the Mexican biologists and authorities that led to finding his body on the Thursday of that week. His body was found inside his car, shot several times. His death is currently being investigated and has become a high-profile international homicide case.
He will have two funeral services: a traditional one in Fenton, Michigan on July 5-6, and a Danza Azteca Funeral Ceremony in Oakland, California at a soon-to-be-determined date which will be announced on his GoFundMe site and on social media.