Dating App Connected to a String of American Tourist Deaths

By: Lauren | Published: Jan 26, 2024

The police have noticed a devastating pattern in the popular Colombian city of Medellin; it seems that several American tourists were killed after using dating apps to meet new people on their trip.

Tou Ger Xiong, the latest in an ever-growing list of victims, was killed in December during his visit. And the U.S. Embassy in Colombia is finally addressing his and the other seven murders that occurred in 2023.

Medellin Is One of Colombia’s Most Popular Tourist Destinations

Medellin, Colombia, is known for its vibrant street art, delicious food, and breathtaking skyline.

Crowd of tourists walk around Medellin, Colombia

Source: Depositphotos

Over the past few years, it has become one of the country’s most popular destinations for tourists from all over the world. In fact, 1.4 million people visited Medellin in 2022, and that number is increasing every year.


Medellin Was Once a Wildly Dangerous City

In the 1990s, Medellin was considered one of the world’s most dangerous cities as infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar ran his cartel there for years.

Cable cars of the Metrocable, a gondola lift system that links the city with the neighborhoods and suburbs in the mountains of Medellin, Colombia

Source: EyesWideOpen/Getty Images

Fortunately, over the past 30 years, Medellin has become far safer for residents and tourists alike. But while crime rates are currently low, there are certainly still risks to take into consideration when visiting the colorful city.

A Medellin Gang That Used Dating Apps to Lure Victims

The U.S. Embassy in Colombia released information via the U.S. State Department recently, which explained that they have been aware of a gang operating within the city of Medellin that uses dating apps to abduct and murder people.

Skyline at night in Medellin, Colombia

Source: Wikipedia

And while the U.S. Embassy has not yet confirmed that the most recent eight victims, all Americans who were killed between November and December of 2023, were murdered by this gang, it’s seeming more and more likely.

Who Was Tou Ger Xiong?

Tou Ger Xiong was a Hmong-American comedian from Minnesota who was found murdered in Medellin at 50 years old in December.

Tou Ger Xiong enjoying a sunset

Source: @Tou Ger Xiong/Facebook

His friends and family reported that Xiong loved visiting Colombia and had been many times. They also noted that he had picked up Spanish and specifically noted how “high-spirited” and friendly Colombians are (via BBC).

Tou Get Xiong’s Tragic Story

On his most recent trip, Xiong told his brother Eh that he had been speaking to a woman online, though he didn’t mention a specific dating site. But, of course, Eh didn’t think anything of his brother’s dating life.

Tou Ger Xiong, while traveling

Source: @Tou Ger Xiong/Facebook

However, Eh did think it was strange when his brother called and asked for $2,000 without explaining what it was for. The next day, when Tou Ger’s body was found, Eh was told that his brother was likely held and gunpoint and forced to hand over the money.


The Many Other Murders in Medellin

Sadly, Xiong’s case was not isolated; there were a total of 40 murders of foreign visitors in 2023, and several of them shared similar details.

Jeff Hewett’s Linkedin profile picture

Source: @Jeff Hewett/Linkedin

Johnny Jerome, Phillip Mullins, and Jeff Hewett were all killed in Medellin last year, and each one was apparently “drugged, robbed, and even killed by their Colombian dates,” explained the U.S. Embassy (via BBC).


The U.S. Embassy Is Officially Speaking Out About the Murders

Although there is no concrete evidence yet to support the theory that there are criminals using dating apps to rob and kill tourists in Medellin, the U.S. Embassy in Colombia desperately wants visitors to understand that it is possible that’s what’s happening.

Exterior of the US Embassy in Bogota, Colombia

Source: Wikidata

In a statement released on Jan. 10, 2024, the embassy wrote, “Several of the deaths point to possible drugging, robbery, and overdose, and several involve the use of online dating applications.”


How Do Criminals Use Dating Apps to Kill?

The U.S. Embassy continued, explaining, “Criminals use dating apps to lure victims to meet in public places such as hotels, restaurants, and bars, and then later assault and rob them.”

The "Tinder" app logo is seen on a mobile phone screen

Source: Leon Neal/Getty Images

The statement then gave specific instructions to those visiting Colombia, and specifically cities such as Medellin and Bogota. These included: “Be cautious if using online dating apps in Colombia … strongly consider meeting only in public places and avoiding isolated locations, such as residences or hotel rooms.” Always tell friends and family about any plans.


Medellin Police Haven’t Commented on the Situation

Although Medellin’s police force hasn’t publicly addressed this situation or answered and questions, they are investigating several of the murders which occurred last year.

Colombia police officers line up at an event

Source: Wikipedia

Additionally, a spokesperson for the mayor of Medellin told the press that local police are also working tirelessly on “special interventions” to help ensure something like this doesn’t happen again by patrolling popular tourist neighborhoods.


What Does Medellin’s Mayor Have to Say?

Mayor Federico Gutierrez did mention that his police force is paying close attention to the situation and that he and his team “want more and more foreigners to come to the city.”

Federico Gutierrez​, Mayor of Medellín, attends the panel 'Urban Mobility Solutions through Public and Private Collaboration

Source: Gabriel Aponte/Getty Images

However, he also noted that those who planned to visit Medellin for sex and drugs were not welcome and that he plans to focus his energy on cleaning up the city as a whole.


People Need to Be Exceptionally Careful as the World Becomes More Anonymous

Although these tragedies occurred in Medellin, Colombia, they could really happen anywhere. As online communication and consequent meetups become more and more commonplace, people need to be exceptionally careful.

Young adult man using a smartphone

Source: Freepik

As the U.S. Embassy explained, always refrain from meeting or even spending time with new acquaintances in a private place, and always tell loved ones where you are and who you’re with, whether you’re in Medellin or anywhere else.