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City businessman was robbed in Guatemala

January 19, 1998

City businessman was robbed in Guatemala

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer

Doug Reed last August witnessed first hand the violence in Guatemala, where five St. Mary's College students were raped over the weekend while on an educational tour.

Reed, a Hagerstown businessman, was riding on a bus with about a dozen other people with whom he was doing missionary work when they were stopped by bandits on a country road.

The bus was driven into a nearby sugar cane field where the passengers were forced to lie face down, said Reed, member of the Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church.

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One at a time, the assailants stood the passengers up and searched them for watches, money, and cameras, which they took, Reed said.

The situation was far more serious for five women from St. Mary's College, who were raped and robbed while returning to Guatemala City Friday night. The students, who were treated at a Guatemala City hospital, returned to the U.S. Saturday night.

Guatemalan security forces arrested four suspects and were hunting for three others Monday.

"It's a wake-up call," Reed said.

Officials from Tri-State area colleges said the incident will cause them to re-examine their foreign study programs.

Although Hood College students who study in Strasbourg, France, and Seville, Spain, are in safe areas, Olivia White, Hood's vice president for student life, said she wants to review the information provided to them to make sure they are knowledgeable about what they face.

"It bothers me as a college administrator," White said.

"There is no question that safety is something we are concerned about. It's certainly going to give institutions cause to be more cautious," said David Dunlop, president of Shepherd College.

Dunlop said he will consult with his staff to determine if the school has a policy regulating student trips abroad.

Dunlop said one problem is that trips often are planned months in advance, and the situation in countries can change considerably by the time students arrive.

College students are not the only ones who study in other countries.

Many Washington County band students go to Europe every summer to perform in cities there, said Doris J. Nipps, member of the Washington County Board of Education.

In recent years, Washington County students have traveled to Belize, a British territory in Central America, where they studied rain forest issues, Nipps said. A number of middle school students from E. Russell Hicks Middle School, Western Heights Middle School and other schools have taken the trip, Nipps said.

Nipps said she is not sure whether the students have ever faced dangerous situations. Nipps said she was not sure whether the board should develop a policy regulating the trips.

About 45 students a year from Mount Saint Mary's College travel to Costa Rica and Europe for study programs, said college spokesman Frank A. Buhrman Jr.

The incident over the weekend probably will prompt college officials to re-examine their programs, although there have been numerous reviews over the years, Buhrman said.

Hagerstown Junior College does not have an international travel program, said president Norman Shea.

Despite the concerns, college officials said tours abroad are an enriching experience for students. Students traveling abroad are exposed to "all the frailties" of a country, while gaining an educational experience, said David Hardesty, president of West Virginia University.

Although WVU does not now have a student exchange program in Guatemala, a group of the school's faculty recently returned from that country after helping officials there with health and agriculture issues, Hardesty said.

Officials on Monday continued to react to the weekend incident.

U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., issued a statement Monday saying she is "doing everything I can to ensure a thorough investigation and to help bring the criminals to justice."

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