UF student group robbed by gang of gunmen in South Africa

Thieves made off with electronics, passports and money, school spokesman says

By Tarik Minor - Anchor, I-TEAM reporter

A group of University of Florida students endured a frightening experience while they were traveling abroad in South Africa. 

Two faculty members and 19 honor students were robbed at gunpoint by a group of six men, according to UF spokesman Steve Orlando. 

Orlando said that, according to police, the group of gunmen followed the students' bus as it headed to the University of Pretoria.

"The group was robbed at a preschool northeast of Johannesburg by at least six gunmen,” Orlando said. “Police say the thieves got away with the students' laptops, cellphones, cameras, passports, plane tickets and money.” 

Two honor students News4Jax reached by phone -- Phebe Brocke and Maya Barrett -- both declined to talk about the robbery. They sounded shaken up and said they will address the media as a group Wednesday.

Barrett wrote this on Facebook about what happened:

“The gunmen did not order us off the bus, rather, they ambushed my group and I, after we had entered through the children's school's gates at an elementary school. The gunmen additionally did not march us into a classroom. My group and I ran into the classroom after the robbery for safety and to hide."

Barrett said local residents came to their aid.

“We had people hugging us, feeding us and even apologizing even though they had no fault,” Barrett wrote on Facebook. “This experience has not, and will not, define my perspective of South Africa or international travel.”

According to UF, the thieves fired their guns as they escaped, wounding one local, but no UF students were hurt. Three students are in the process of returning home. The others have chosen to stay and will return next week. 

“The school is in the process of evaluating this specific honors program and its locations moving forward,” Orlando said.

The students are also receiving counseling through the US Embassy in South Africa.

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