A graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley has been killed in Mexico — where his bullet-riddled body was found in his SUV after his fiancée reported him missing on his trip to conduct field research about plants.

Gabriel Trujillo, 31, a botanist and fourth-year PhD candidate in the Department of Integrative Biology, was shot seven times June 19 in the northwest state of Sonora and his body was discovered three days later, his family said.

Trujillo, who drove across the Arizona border into Nogales on June 17, told his fiancée Roxanne Cruz-de Hoyos on the morning of his death that he was going out to collect plants and would later return to his Airbnb.

She grew worried when Trujillo didn’t respond to her and his Airbnb hosts said he had not returned, so she jumped on a plane and flew down to Mexico to help search for him.

On June 22, authorities made the gruesome discovery of his body inside an SUV about 62 miles from the Airbnb, Cruz-de Hoyos said.

Gabriel Trujillo, a 31-year-old doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley, was fatally shot in Mexico during a field research trip about plants.

Trujillo’s dad, Anthony Trujillo, flew from his home in Michigan to Mexico and joined Cruz-de Hoyos, but they said they’ve received little information and are urging the US and Mexican governments to provide help.

“Evidently he was in the wrong place,” Trujillo told The Associated Press on Thursday before he boarded a flight back home with his tragic son’s remains.

The Sonora state prosecutor’s office said in a statement that it was analyzing evidence “to establish the facts, conditions and causes of the death,” which it did not describe as a homicide.

UC Berkeley in Northern California said it received word about Trujillo’s death on June 23.

Gabriel Trujillo and his fiancee Roxanne Cruz-de Hoyos
Trujillo, seen above with his fiancee Roxanne Cruz-de Hoyos, was found dead in his SUV three days after he was shot seven times in the northwest state of Sonora.

“Local police authorities are investigating. This is heartbreaking news and campus officials have reached out to his family to offer support and assistance,” the school said in a statement.

A GoFundMe page also announced Trujillo’s death.

“Gabriel was and is beyond what words can express. He was brilliant, genuine, talented, adventurous, brave, generous, and above all unfailingly kind and loving to everyone,” organizer Roxy Cruz wrote.

“He was a son, brother, cherished family member, fiancé, and friend. He was a deeply spiritual Danzante and was reconnecting to his Indigenous Opata and Nahua ancestry,” he said.

“His celebration of life in the Bay Area will be a Danza Azteca Ceremony that Gabriel would have wanted deeply. While attending another Danzante funeral, he shared with his fianceé that one day when he passed, he wanted this ceremony more than anything,” Cruz continued.

Gabriel Trujillo conducting plant research
The budding botanist went to Mexico to research the flowering shrub called the common buttonbush.

“Please know that Gabriel is still with you. He was and is a deeply spiritual person whose love is boundless and eternal. When you remember him, he would want you to be happy. That is how we can celebrate his life,” he added.

Born March 4, 1992, in Arizona, Trujillo later moved with his blended family to Michigan, where he and his siblings lived in a predominantly white neighborhood.

“We were like the Mexican Brady Bunch,” his father said.

Trujillo attended a boarding school in New Mexico and earned his bachelor’s degree from Lake Forest College in Illinois. A Ford Foundation fellow, he was on track to complete his doctorate at Berkeley in 2025.

Gabriel Trujillo and Roxanne Cruz-de Hoyos stand near a pumpkin
The couple were planning for a wedding led by an Indigenous elder by the end of the year.  
Twitter /

Trujillo, whose mother Gloria died of cancer about 10 years ago, crisscrossed through US and Mexico for the past four years in search of a flowering shrub called the common buttonbush.

He wanted to know why it thrived in such varied climates as in the US, Canada and Mexico — and whether the evolution of the species held possibilities for future habitat conservation and restoration efforts.

He and his fiancée — a postdoctoral fellow researching widespread tree mortality – often traveled together in their big red van to collect specimens. He wanted to eventually apply his research to building a garden in Mexico and using the buttonbush for wetland restoration. 

Gabriel Trujillo in a boat
The Sonora state prosecutor’s office said it was analyzing evidence in the investigation.

“We were committed to dedicating our lives to environmental conservation and environmental research,” Cruz-de Hoyos told the AP. “We felt that Indigenous hands have taken care of these lands for time immemorial.”

The couple shared ancestry in the Nahua Indigenous group, which has ties to the Aztec civilization in Mexico.

Cruz-de Hoyos had undergone fertility treatments in the past two years and Trujillo’s tragic trip to Mexico was supposed to be his last before the couple began trying to get pregnant. They had bought a house together and were planning for a wedding led by an Indigenous elder by the end of the year.  

Gabriel Trujillo on a mountain trek
Trujillo was evidently “in the wrong place” at the time of his killing, his dad said.
Twitter / @AskACABotanist

Instead, the grieving woman will honor Trujillo with a Danza Azteca ceremony, an Indigenous spiritual tradition, in the San Francisco Bay Area after his dad hosts a Catholic funeral Mass in Michigan.

His family had begged him not to go to Sonora, a drug-plagued area that recorded 518 homicides through May, but Trujillo believed the trip was vital for his research.

“Gabe was a passionate ecologist, field biologist, and advocate for diverse voices in science,” UC Berkeley’s Department of Integrative Biology wrote in an email to its campus community. “We all face a world that is less bright for this loss.”

With Post Wires