Images from past trips to South Africa show dozens of Stevenson University students taking in the historic sites, the exotic animals and a cultural experience unlike any other, but the first tour Sunday after arriving in the city of Pretoria will be truly unforgettable.
"There were four motorcyclists who pulled the bus over. One of them had a handgun (and) held the people at the front of the bus at bay using the handgun. The others went through the bus (and) took cash, jewelry, electronics---anything they could get their hands on," said Jim Salvucci, Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Among the 30 students and five chaperones on board that bus was Baltimore's former police commissioner, Frederick Bealefeld, who told university leaders the group complied with the robbers' wishes and no one got hurt.
"He said it was a situation where there was a gun," said Salvucci. "You don't want to act. You might be able to wrestle the gun, but what happens then? If the gun goes off? So it was sort of a textbook robbery."
This was the university's fourth trip to the city of almost 2 million people, and the criminal justice students had planned to meet with police, prosecutors and local government leaders over the next five weeks.
But now, they're headed home after a traumatic experience, which robbed them of their cell phones, money and passports, as well as their trip of a lifetime.
"We did not come by the decision to bring them home easily, because I know what went into it,” said Salvucci. “Students scrimp and save. They plan. They build their schedules around this trip. It's a big deal. 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."
The students now have a heavy police escort in South Africa, and the university's crisis management team worked through the night to try to arrange flights for them to get out over the next 48 hours.