The Washington Post
Monday, July 19, 2004; Page A02

U.S. Volunteers Hijacked, Robbed In Guatemala

Associated Press

SANTA ROSA, Calif., July 18 -- Volunteers from the United States, most of them teenagers, were robbed by armed men while traveling for a service project in Guatemala and released unharmed, group leaders said Saturday.

The 13 teenagers and four adults were heading to El Salvador on Friday with the Sonoma, Calif., nonprofit group Seeds of Learning when their bus was hijacked, executive director Katharine Hewitt said.

The bus was south of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, when a car and a pickup carrying the five gunmen cut the bus off, program director Annie Bacon told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

The hijackers fired shots, boarded the bus and asked for a translator. One of the men pushed the driver aside and started driving, Bacon said.

With Bacon translating, the robbers asked passengers to hand over their possessions and made off with $11,200 that had been donated for the service project and personal possessions, including cameras and cell phones, Bacon said.

The group then headed to Antigua and was staying at a hotel there Saturday night while deciding whether to continue on to El Salvador, where the volunteers planned to build a school, Hewitt told the Associated Press. Almost all the participants wanted to continue, she said.

"They want to build these schools and help these communities," Hewitt said. "They're very concerned that they're letting them down."

No one answered the phones at the hotel in Antigua early Sunday.

Every year, the 12-year-old organization takes about a dozen groups of volunteers to Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador to build schools in rural communities.

© 2004