UC Davis Researcher Sharon Gray Killed by Stone-Throwing Protesters In Ethiopia

UC Davis postdoctoral researcher Sharon Gray was murdered near Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa after anti-protesters attacked the vehicle she was riding in with stones.

Gray, a 30-year-old researcher at the University of California’s plant biology department, died on Tuesday from the injuries that she sustained during the shocking attack, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Andy Fell, a UC Davis spokesperson, confirmed the death of Sharon Gray on Wednesday. She reportedly traveled to Ethiopia for a meeting related to her research on crops.

The U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia, which issued a travel advisory for parts of Ethiopia in August, has also confirmed Gray’s death in a statement. The U.S. State Department had warned its citizens against traveling to areas of Ethiopia’s Amhara and Oromia regions, the hotbed of ongoing anti-government protests, VOA reported.

The demonstrations, which began peacefully in Oromia in November last year over a controversial government plan, have since turned violent. There have been several reports of deadly clashes between protesters and law enforcement officials. A large number of people have also been incarcerated since the anti-government protests began.

Human Rights Watch estimates that more than 400 people have been killed in the widespread protests. However, Sharon Gray is the first foreigner and US citizen to be killed in the violence, ABC reported.

This week the waves of protest in Oromia have been particularly fierce after more than 50 people were killed and scores of others injured in a stampede on Sunday. The deadly incident happened during an annual Oromo Thanksgiving festival which was attended by about two million people. Chaos ensued at the gathering after law enforcement officers shot tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd in a bid to disperse anti-government protesters.

UC Davis Sharon Gray
Ethiopian soldiers try to stop protesters in Bishoftu, Ethiopia. [AP Photo]

The protesters who attacked the vehicle that Sharon Gray was riding in reportedly also threw stones at other cars.

On Tuesday, demonstrators also attacked and burned down a police station and a cement factory in Ethiopia belonging to Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, the Financial Times reported. A Turkish textile factory was also burned down. In September, Ethiopian anti-government protesters attacked several foreign-owned plantations in the Amhara region.

Sharon Gray was not the only US citizen or person in the vehicle at the time of the attack. Another UC Davis official, Siobhan Brady, was also present when the protesters threw stones at the car in the outskirts of Addis Ababa. However, Brady, who works as an associate professor of plant biology at UC Davis, did not sustain any injuries.

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Brady has since left the East African country and traveled back to San Francisco.

“On behalf of the entire UC Davis campus, our heart and condolences go out to Sharon’s husband and extended family. Even in tragedy, we hope that we all can find some comfort in the wonderful work Sharon was engaged in that will better the lives of so many around the world,” Ken Burtis, UC Davis interim provost said in a statement posted on the UC Davis Graduate Studies Facebook page.

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Sharon Gray started working with the University of California, Davis in 2013 when she received her doctorate from the University of Illinois. Gray’s husband is also a UC Davis employee. The university’s plant biology department has posted dozens of Sharon Gray’s pictures on a memorial page.

Sharon Gray was in Ethiopia to discuss the future of her project with the Netherlands Institute of Ecology and other unnamed charity groups. Her project reportedly focused on studying how carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere affects cash crops like tomatoes and soybeans.

The U.S. State Department is reportedly working with the Ethiopian government to have Sharon Gray’s body returned to her family.

[Featured Image by by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images]