Murder in Ecuador: Night of terror for U.S. study abroad students in 1997

Posted on March 1, 2016 • Filed under: Crime, Ecuador

May 30th 1997 University of New Mexico librarian her husband and children with a group of study abroad students were ambushed by bandits. The librarian was killed in the assault by gunshot.

Study abroad programs have been popular for many years for college students. Most fortunately have an enjoyable, memorable, and safe experience. However, there is always a risk of something going wrong. And things went wrong on May 30th, 1997 for a group of University of New Mexico students on May 30th, 1997, near Guayaquil Ecuador.

SOURCE: Albuquerque Journal, Archives – (Toby Smith, Pat Butler) – Professor Dick Gerdes and his wife Aida Gerdes were in charge of a cultural studies program that included 12 UNM students to spend a month in Cuenca Ecuador. The Gerdes’ two children were also along for the trip. Dr. Gerdes arrived in Ecuador early to prepare for the program. On May 29th, at 11:30 pm he met the students on arrival at the airport. While their primary destination was Cuenca, Ecuador they had planned to spend some time in the coastal city of Salinas about two hours away. Despite being tired the group decided not to spend the night in Guayaquil and headed out in their chartered bus on the road to Salinas. About an hour into the trip at about 1:00 am a group of three assailants fired weapons to stop the bus. They boarded the vehicle and identified themselves as drug enforcement agents. The students were rounded up outside the bus and their passports were confiscated along with wallets and luggage. One of the victims reported that it became very obvious that the men were not drug agents. They took everything except for the clothes on their backs.

The assailants began to leave when they started firing weapons and everyone scattered into the brush fearing for their lives. Aida Gerdes was mortally wounded in the chest and the driver of the charter received a non-life threatening gunshot wound. For the next three hours in the dark of the night in a muddy area the victims fought off mosquitoes and hid in fear. Police arrived two to three hours later but were not sure who to trust. Police had to convince them to come out of hiding. The group was assisted by the U.S. Consulate in Guayaquil and transported to Quito where most of the students returned to the U.S. As of June 1, 1997, no arrests had been made in the deadly assault.

The Alguquerque Journal quoted Sabine Ulibarri a retire UNM Spanish instructor stated: “The matter of danger on the highways has always been there and everybody has known about it. We used to travel all over the country by bus 00 but always at daytime. I am very surprised that Dick Gerdes was travelling at night. That kind of situation is made to order for bandits.”….. “This matter of bandits in Ecuador is nothing new.” “But we never traveled at night and that may have made a difference.
The University of New Mexico – Aida Gerdes Memorial Library Endowment



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