B.C. professor found dead in Colombia under mysterious circumstances remembered as ‘positive’ and ‘dedicated’

Vancouver (The Star) – Ramazan Gençay was a teacher, dancer and lover of the outdoors, according to family and friends.

Gençay, known to them as “Ramo,” was found dead in Colombia’s second-largest city on Christmas Day. The mysterious circumstances surrounding his death are under police investigation, according to local media reports.

He was in Medellín to attend seminars at Eafit University and was reported missing on Dec. 6.

Gençay taught economics at Simon Fraser University in the Vancouver area and loved salsa dancing, trail running and travelling. His wife, Carole Gençay, posted video clips of her husband dancing, many of which show him swaying while holding a cat.

His wife did not respond to an interview request, but Gençay’s dance instructor, Nina Perez, told StarMetro he was one of her most dedicated students.

“It was a genuine pleasure to have him around,” said Perez, who owns Baila Vancouver Dance School.

“He would always have something positive to say. Out of a lot of students that I see, he stood out because of that.”

Gençay picked up salsa dancing as a hobby three years ago and enthusiastically took lessons wherever he travelled, she said, adding he went to Colombia every year.

“It was a big part of his life, to dance. He found that it was a great way to meet the locals and connect with people.”

Gençay, who is originally from Turkey, completed his master’s degree at the University of Guelph and received his PhD from the University of Houston.

“He was an outstanding contributor to the university community and will be sorely missed by all who knew him,” Simon Fraser University’s president, Andrew Petter, said in a written statement.

Dozens of people with Colombian connections responded to Carole’s Facebook post about her husband’s death, lamenting the amount of violence in the country.

In response, Carole emphasized she harboured no resentment toward Colombians.

“I have been deeply touched these past three weeks with Colombians of stellar character, truly honest and caring people, from Medellín colleagues and students to the police and attorney general’s office,” she wrote.

“I cannot know the complexities of why incidents like these occur in Colombia. It seems as though Colombia has an infectious, grave illness. My wish now is that Ramo’s case can push the issue toward solutions at all levels of society.”

“It was a big part of his life, to dance. He found that it was a great way to meet the locals and connect with people,”  said Carole Gençay.
“It was a big part of his life, to dance. He found that it was a great way to meet the locals and connect with people,” said Carole Gençay.  (CAROLE GENÇAY /FACEBOOK)

On Dec. 27, Colombian authorities confirmed that his body was found in San Sebastian de Palmitas, a rural township on the outskirts of the city, according to local media reports.

“The facts surrounding his disappearance and death are matters of investigation. What is known so far is that the teacher disappeared on Dec. 6 … Days later it transpired that funds in the professor’s (bank) cards were emptied, and the search of the authorities in Medellín intensified,” the national El Espectador newspaper reported.

Local police had recovered a body on Christmas Day but were unable to immediately confirm its identity due to decomposition, according to the report.

It is unclear whether a robbery occurred before or after his death.

StarMetro called multiple police stations in Medellín on Friday but was unable to reach anyone.

The Canadian government last updated a travel advisory on Nov. 29 that said people should exercise a “high degree of caution in Colombia due to a high level of crime.”

Canadian Mark Atkinson has lived in Medellín for the past two months and told StarMetro the people have been among the best he has ever met.

“I have not met one person from Medellín who hasn’t gone out of their way to help me, whether it’s because they see me struggle with Spanish or they know I am here on my own,” he said.

Atkinson, who travelled from Moncton to Medellín to help his father navigate the Colombian health-care system, acknowledged he does hear gunshots at night and that he once saw “a truckload of guys with ski masks and assault rifles.”

Twenty-five years ago, TIME magazine named Medellín the “most dangerous city on Earth” because of the dominance of drug cartels, frequent assassination of officials and police officers and disappearances of ordinary people. Around 3,000 people were murdered in 1987.

While crime has declined dramatically in the past decade and the city has developed a reputation as a good hub for entrepreneurs, murder remains relatively commonplace in the city of 3.9 million.

A total of 613 homicides occurred in Medellín in 2018 — a five per cent increase from 2017. That is more than double the number of homicides in New York City, which has a population of 8.6 million.

On Christmas Day alone, there were four homicides in different sectors of the city, El Espectador reported.

With files from Andres Plana

Wanyee Li is a Vancouver-based reporter covering courts, wildlife conservation and new technology. Follow her on Twitter: @wanyeelii

Joanna Chiu is assistant managing editor of StarMetro Vancouver. Follow her on Twitter: @joannachiu

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