Professor Jorge Rogachevsky was lying face down in a sugar cane field, praying that the 13 college students he had led to Guatemala would survive.
“My concern was, ‘How was this going to end?”’ Rogachevsky said Monday. “I was helpless to prevent it as it was occurring.”
Rogachevsky, a professor of Spanish and Latin American studies at St. Mary’s College, a small liberal arts school here, organized the trip to the Peten region of Guatemala, where he had done research in 1994 as a Fulbright scholar.
The students, two teachers and a college administrator were in a pink-and-white van on a highway south of Guatemala City on Friday afternoon when a band of gunmen fired and forced them off the road.
All were robbed and five female students were raped before police and military authorities arrived about 90 minutes later. Guatemalan authorities said Monday four suspects had been arrested and three were being sought.
Rogachevsky said the gunmen seemed puzzled that the group had little money. The students were nearing the end of a two-week anthropology tour, planning to return for the start of spring semester classes on Monday.
“They wanted to know where the money was hidden,” Rogachevsky said.
He said he tried to stay calm, even offering to translate for the bandits, but they told him he should stay down.
Victor Anibal Lopez Arias, identified as the driver of the bus, told The Associated Press that the bandits threatened to kill anyone who moved.
He said the gunmen seized luggage, money and other items before the rapes began.
“They raped one senorita in the bus and the other four met a similar fate when they were taken into the cane field,” he said.
The State Department’s consular information sheet on Guatemala cites the hijacking of a public bus in broad daylight and the rape of four American citizens in separate incidents last summer.
Nonetheless, St. Mary’s College officials did not believe students were at great risk, noting the lack of travel restrictions from the State Department.
“There was not an indication to us that we were at greater risk than at other times,” college President Jane Margaret O’Brien said.
Students on the trip to study the region’s history and society had been told of the reports about crime, she said.