A group of 21 people, including students, professors, and staff, from the University of Florida were robbed during a visit to a preschool in South Africa for an outreach trip.
Five armed robbers followed the group inside the gates of the preschool they were visiting near the city of Pretoria in the Gauteng province of South Africa.
According to a news release from the South African Police Service, “An employee of the school was assaulted by the robbers, while a member of the public was struck by a stray bullet as suspects allegedly fired shots randomly when they were getting away in a white Toyota Quantum with no registration numbers.”
The robbers stole ” laptops; cellphones; cameras; passports and plane tickets; bags and US Dollars.”
According to a Facebook post from Maya Barrett, one of the students on the trip, the gunmen “ambushed” the group “after we had entered through the children’s school’s gates.” Barrett said that after the attack, they ran into one of the classrooms to hide.
Barrett stressed that she did not blame South Africa for the incident, and specifically praised the local community.
“In fact,” she wrote, “tremendous kindness was shown by community members as they comforted and protected us after. We had people hugging us, feeding us, and apologizing even though they had no fault.” She asked people hearing about the story not to use it “as justification for any prejudice you may hold.”
University of Florida spokesman Steve Orlando told the Gainesville Sun that the university had been sending groups on similar trips to South Africa for years, but that now it would be “evaluating this program and location moving forward.”
South Africa does have a high rate of violent crime. The country has one of the 10 highest murder rates of any country in the world. In addition, according to recent estimates, only 10 percent of murderers in South Africa are caught and convicted of their crimes (compared to 60 percent in the United States).