A woman was bound to a tree by angry villagers — and then fatally bitten by fire ants — after being mistaken for a car thief, a report says.
The falsely accused 52-year-old died in a local hospital from breathing problems caused by severe throat swelling after being repeatedly bitten by the insects in the Bolivian city of Caranavi, roughly 100 miles northeast of the capital, La Paz,
Her two children also received the same punishment, but managed to survive the ordeal.
“It’s probable that the ants bit the victim’s windpipe, which caused an inflammation and meant she wasn’t able to breathe,” said the family’s lawyer, Roxana Bustillos.
Police officials said the woman had traveled to Caranavi from La Paz to recover a debt and had been accused of swiping a vehicle, along with her kids.
What began as a grand theft auto investigation eventually turned into a murder probe, though, after it was revealed that the woman was innocent and that her attackers had been incited by an enraged local, who was later arrested.
“Initially the investigation was opened as a probe into an attempted car theft but now it has been changed to a murder and serious assault investigation,” said police chief Gunter Agudo.
The trio reportedly was strapped down and tied to a mystical local tree known as a “Palo Santo” — which grows on the coast of South America and is infamous for its Brazilian fire ant colonies.
“We managed to rescue all three people but one of them, the 52-year-old woman, was in a bad way and had to be taken to hospital,” Agudo said, adding that she died on New Year’s Eve.
The nephew of the woman who died later described on Facebook how he hoped justice would be served and that those responsible would be punished.
“My family is suffering the loss of my beloved aunt,” he wrote. “I hope the courts clarify what’s happened because they’ve left my cousins orphans.”