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A retired geochemistry professor from the University of British Columbia has been killed in attempted robbery in Valparaiso, Chile, the school confirmed Saturday. Dr. Peter Winterburn is seen in an undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-UBC, Mineral Deposit Research Unit, Martin Dee

Martin Dee/The Canadian Press

A retired geochemistry professor from the University of British Columbia has been killed in attempted robbery in Valparaiso, Chile, the school confirmed Saturday.

In a post on Facebook, the school’s Mineral Deposit Research Unit said Peter Winterburn was killed just before noon on Friday.

Prof. Winterburn was a “compelling force” at the MDRU, the post says, implementing a new research program and contributing to student and industry training.

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“We are all deeply sadden by his tragic death,” the post says.

Prof. Winterburn was walking with his wife and daughter in the city’s Cerro Alegre neighbourhood when two men tried to take his backpack, according to a report in the newspaper La Tercera.

The newspaper reports that Prof. Winterburn resisted and was stabbed, and federal police are working to find the attackers.

Global Affairs Canada confirmed that a Canadian citizen was murdered in Chile, although for privacy reasons the department did not identify the citizen.

Spokesman Stefano Maron said consular officials are helping the victim’s family and are in contact with local authorities.

A statement on the website of the 29th International Applied Geochemistry Symposium, set to be held in Chile next year, said Prof. Winterburn had recently moved back to Chile after many years away.

Brian Townley, the president of the symposium’s organizing committee, described what happened to Prof. Winterburn as a “shock to all of us, a tragedy that is hard to explain.”

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He described “great grievance and disbelief, mixed with frustration and impotence,” at Prof. Winterburn’s death.

“Criminal acts such as these (are) impossible to understand within the good norms of life,” Mr. Townley wrote in an e-mail.

A spokesman for the mining company Vale said Prof. Winterburn had worked there for years before moving to Chile.

“He is missed by all of us at Vale but particularly so by his colleagues in the Exploration Department. His death, as a result of what appears to be a senseless and criminal act, is a loss to us all,” the spokesman said.

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