UC Davis researcher killed by rock throwers in Ethiopia

Sharon Gray, a UC Davis postdoctoral researcher in the university’s plant biology department, was killed Tuesday in Ethiopia when the vehicle she was riding in was stoned by protesters, university official said. Brady Lab, Department of Plant Biology and Genome Center, University of California Davis

UC Davis officials said Wednesday that a postdoctoral researcher in the university’s plant biology department was killed Tuesday in Ethiopia when the vehicle she was riding in was stoned by protesters.

Sharon Gray, 30, was in the East African nation to attend a meeting related to her research, according to the university.

Andy Fell, a university spokesman, confirmed that Gray was the American woman who was reported killed when stones were hurled at her vehicle on the outskirts of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, on Tuesday.

The U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia issued a statement saying a passenger van was hit by rocks late Tuesday afternoon and that “one of the passengers, a U.S. citizen, was struck by a rock and subsequently died from her injury,” several overseas media outlets reported.

Crowds have attacked other vehicles since a stampede at a weekend protest killed at least 55 people, according to news reports. The protests have centered on land and political rights in Ethiopia.

Another member of the plant biology department who was traveling with Gray was not injured and is headed home, university officials said.

Siobhan Brady, an associate professor of plant biology at UC Davis and head of the Brady Lab, where Gray worked as a postdoctoral fellow, said by email Wednesday night that she was in transit from Addis Ababa to San Francisco. She was unavailable for comment.

University officials said Gray was attending a meeting in Ethiopia to discuss the next steps in a project she was involved in with the Netherlands Institute of Ecology and other charitable organizations.

She had been at UC Davis since 2013, Fell said. He said Gray’s husband is also a university employee.

“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, the university’s acting provost, said in a statement posted on the UC Davis Graduate Studies’ Facebook page.

The university’s plant biology department posted a memorial page on its website with dozens of photographs of Gray at

Gray received her doctorate in plant biology in 2013 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which she also attended as an undergraduate. Her research focused on studying the effects of a buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere on crops such as soybeans and tomatoes.

The U.S. State Department is assisting in returning Gray’s body to her family.
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