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London, Ont., woman killed in roadside gunpoint robbery in Mexico

Gabriele Schart, centre, was killed in Mexico on Saturday, say her sons, Corin, right, and Michael, left. They're working to get answers from authorities in Mexico and  prepare a funeral in Zipolite, where their mother lived for the last decade.  (Supplied by Raquel Shulman - image credit)
Gabriele Schart, centre, was killed in Mexico on Saturday, say her sons, Corin, right, and Michael, left. They're working to get answers from authorities in Mexico and prepare a funeral in Zipolite, where their mother lived for the last decade. (Supplied by Raquel Shulman - image credit)

A London, Ont., woman who lived in Mexico for close to a decade was shot and killed during a roadside robbery while driving home to Canada, according to friends and local news reports.

Canadian officials have not yet confirmed the death of Gabriele Schart, but her family and friends have spoken to CBC News.

Schart owned the Firefly Cinema and karaoke bar in Zipolite, a town in southern Mexico. The business, founded by Schart about eight years ago, was a popular gathering spot for expatriates and locals, friends say.

Family members say they've been told Schart was shot in Queretaro, just north of Mexico City, on Saturday — about a day into her journey home with her four dogs and cat. Mexican media say Schart was 50 but a friend said she was 57.

"She absolutely loved animals and she would not leave without them, so she decided to buy a vehicle there and drive home with them," said longtime friend Raquel Shulman, adding Schart was going home to look after her ailing mother.

Canada warns Mexico visitors to be cautious

Global Affairs Canada is "aware of the death of a Canadian in Mexico," a spokesperson said in a statement.

"Consular officials are providing consular assistance and support to the family and are in contact with local authorities to obtain additional information," said the statement emailed to CBC News on Wednesday. "Due to privacy considerations, no further information can be disclosed."

The Canadian government also advises visitors to Mexico to "exercise a high degree of caution" because of high levels of criminal activity and kidnapping.

CBC News also reached out to authorities and others in Mexico about the Schart case.

Ramon Rodriguez is a reporter who specializes in security issues and wrote about Schart's killing for regional Mexican media outlet Iqro, based in Queretaro.

Rodriguez told CBC News the road on which the robbery happened has been a hot spot for robberies because of the access criminals have to vehicles that slow down as they approach a toll booth.

Shulman said Schart was driving with a male friend who was supposed to help her on the sometimes dangerous Mexican highways, where drivers are sometimes stopped by men who demand money.

"He was supposed to be a safety net for her, so she would be safe getting to the border."

Family working on funeral plans

The friend was also shot and sent to hospital for treatment, Rodriguez said. Authorities told him Schart got out of the car when a group approached and she was shot and died instantly.

"Mexico right now is living one of its most violent times of recent years," Rodriguez told CBC News in Spanish.

"It's a situation that you, as foreigners, should be aware of becoming to Mexico," he said, adding the country is also dangerous for locals.

Schart has two sons — Corin, who lives in Mexico, and Michael, who lives in London with his grandmother. The siblings are working to get answers from authorities in Mexico.

"Gabriele was a very bright person. Strong-willed. Loving. No matter how hard things got, she found the strength to keep on trying," eldest son Michael wrote on a GoFundMe page to raise money for travel costs to claim his mother's remains and for funeral costs.

A funeral will be held in Mexico, Shulman said.

She said Schart moved to Mexico in 2015 to escape the hustle and bustle of life in Canada.

"She applied to lots of different places that offered room and board and Mexico was the first place to get back to her, offered her a job at a hotel doing data entry, and she took it. She fell in love with Zipolite."

2 of woman's pets found, search on for 3

One of the dogs she was taking home, a boxer named Ruby, as well as a cat were picked up by Mexican animal protection officials after the killing.

Gabriele Schart was driving home to Canada from Mexico with her four dogs. When she was killed, the animals scattered. Only the boxer, Ruby, has been found.
Gabriele Schart was driving home to Canada from Mexico with her four dogs. When she was killed, the animals scattered. Only the boxer, Ruby, has been found.

Schart was driving home to Canada from Mexico with her four dogs. After she was killed, the animals scattered. Only the boxer, Ruby, has been found. (Supplied by Claudia Memet)

The three other dogs have not been found but people in Mexico are trying to locate them, said another friend, Claudia Mamet.

"Gabby and I met years ago when she offered to foster two dogs. She already had two of her own," said Mamet, owner of the Dogs of Puerto Angel rescue organization, which operates in Mexico. "She's well known in the community of expats because she ran the only cinema in the area, which was very popular."

Recently, the health of Schart's mother deteriorated, so she decided to move back home to help her son look after her, Mamet said.

"She could have taken a flight back to Canada and it would have been a lot less expensive and easier," she said. "But there was no way she was going to rehome these animals and leave them behind."