Twin Cities activist Tou Ger Xiong kidnapped, killed in Colombia

MINNEAPOLIS —  A Minnesota family is grieving after their loved one was kidnapped and killed while on a trip to Medellín, Colombia.

Colombian authorities confirmed Tuesday that 50-year-old Tou Ger Xiong arrived in Medellín on Nov. 29. He called a friend in the U.S. on Dec. 10 after going to meet a woman he met online, saying he was kidnapped and being held for a $2,000 ransom.

Xiong was then killed, Yiri Amado Sánchez, sectional director of Medellín prosecutor's office, said in a news conference, adding that the alleged kidnappers didn't collect the ransom money.

Xiong's body was found in a wooded area with stab wounds, Sánchez said.

Tou Ger Xiong / Credit: Bush Foundation
Tou Ger Xiong / Credit: Bush Foundation

Xiong was a well-loved comedian, activist, proud Hmong-American, brother, son and friend, his family said.

"That's very difficult, you know? Nobody deserves that. But I really want to just make sure that we don't remember him for how he died, but remember him for how he lived," Xiong's lifelong friend, Bo Thao-Urabe said.

Thao-Urabe said Xiong made the hard things in life, easy.

"A lot of people try to find joy in life, but he really lived joy," she said.

A pillar in the Hmong community, Xiong was a man well known for his activism, art and gift of laughter.

Xiong was born in Laos in 1973, he wrote on his website. He and his family fled to the United States when he was a young boy and landed in St. Paul, where he graduated valedictorian from Humboldt High School. He went on to receive a degree from Carleton College.

In 2015, he helped found Hmong Minnesota Day at the Minnesota State Fair. He also won a number of award for his work to close the racial divide — including the honor of Bush Fellow in 2019.

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According to the Bush Foundation, Xiong was a Hmong American storyteller who shared his "personal stories across the country to build cultural competency and address racial discrimination."

"He really helped people to feel welcome and included. And he bridged generations, but he also bridged communities across culture," Thao-Urabe said. "And never did it in a way where he was preachy, you know, he just engaged people in dialogue, no matter how hard the topic. And really encouraged people to be the best that they can be."

Xiong's brother, Eh Xiong, said he is in the process of bringing his brother's body home. The family plans to create a foundation in Xiong's name to keep his legacy moving forward.

"This is a heartbreaking tragedy," Sen. Amy Klobuchar said in a statement. "Tou Ger was an incredible person who was constantly working to uplift his community. My office is in contact with Tou Ger's family and the embassy in Columbia as they work to bring his body back to Minnesota. My thoughts and prayers are with his loved ones during this difficult time."

A vigil will be held in honor of Xiong on Saturday, Dec. 23 from 4-8 p.m. at East Ridge High School in Woodbury.

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