STEVENSON, Md. (WJZ) –Stevenson University students on a trip to South Africa are now on their way home after a terrifying encounter with armed robbers on their tour bus. Also on board was Baltimore’s former police commissioner Fred Bealefeld.
Investigative reporter Mike Hellgren has more on how it unfolded and the concerns from some who say this is not the first incident.
According to several sources, students on the same trip three years ago were robbed in their hotel rooms. In both cases, no one was hurt.
Former commissioner Bealefeld says the students remained calm.
The five-week South African trip has become a tradition for Stevenson University criminal justice students, but this year a chilling armed robbery cut it short just hours after the 30 students arrived in Pretoria.
Dean Jim Salvucci, of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, recounts what happened on their tour bus–with chaperones, including current faculty member and Bealefeld on board.
“There were four motorcyclists who pulled the bus over. One of them had a handgun, held the people at the front of the bus at bay using the handgun. The others went through the bus with cash, jewelry, electronics–anything they could get their hands on,” Salvucci said.
No one was injured. Salvucci said this when asked if they’d had problems on the trip in the past:
“No, nothing of any great significance,” he said.
But several people–who asked to remain anonymous because of their connections to the school–contacted WJZ and claimed money, laptops and phones were stolen from the students’ hotel during a 2011 trip. They say students were threatened at knifepoint in a hotel room.
Here is their account:
“When she woke up and confronted the person, ‘what are you doing?’ this particular person actually had a knife.”
“It was pretty traumatic for them because their child was thousands of miles away. Stevenson did a great job getting answers and seemed to get things under control.”
“Knowing that the crime that’s in that country and what has taken place prior, did they take any steps? You know, should there have been guards or security with them on this particular tour?”
“Students or families or parents should have been told of prior instances that took place rather than saying an incident like this has never happened in the past when it has.”
The university reiterated to WJZ there have never been any major incidents before, saying safety is a priority.
After the armed robbery, a heavy police escort kept a close eye on the group while administrators made the difficult decision to send everyone home.
“We don’t want them to be alone 8,000 miles away. We want them home where they’re safe and sound. They’re with their families. They’re with their friends, and they’re much more secure,” Salvucci said.
Even those who spoke to us about past incidents believe the trip is worthwhile and very educational, but they’d like to see a reevaluation of security measures. The school tells us no decision has been made over whether to continue with the South African trip next year.
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