Two young Australian backpackers from Cairns, Queensland, have spoken out about being kidnapped, assaulted and robbed at gunpoint while backpacking through Guatemala.
Jayson Peter Kelly, 25, and Kirsten Smith, also 25, were eight weeks into their nine-month backpacking adventure — a holiday they had planned for two years — when the tour bus they were travelling on was shot at and hijacked by three local “cowboys” on Saturday morning local time.
Kelly was held at gunpoint soon after the armed thugs took control of their vehicle.
“We were on a shuttle that was going from Antigua, Guatemala to León in Nicaragua. The shuttle was fully organised and available to be booked through several hostels and legitimate shuttle companies,” Kelly told News.com.au.
The couple, now safe in Costa Rica, were on the shuttle bus with other tourists.
“They [the assailants] commandeered our shuttle and jumped into the back and held a gun to my head. They had been shooting at the van like cowboys and once that hot gun was at my head, I thought that was it,” he recalled.
When the shuttle eventually came to a halt the tourists were dragged off the bus, tied up with their own shoelaces and robbed of their belongings. However, all passports and identification were left on the bus.
At this point, Kelly was once again held at gunpoint.
“I actually hoped they would shoot me in the head to make it as quick and painless as it could have been,” Kelly told the publication.
“Kirsten also thought it was all over when we all got tied up. She thought that we were going to be shot one by one.
“She was actually tied up next to me and at one point looked at me and asked if we were going to be OK. I had no idea what to say back. I just told her I loved her.”
The female tourists were then "touched indecently" Kelly said, including his girlfriend, Smith.
“All of the females were touched indecently,” he said. “Having to witness that but being helpless was just absolutely terrifying.”
After an estimated two-hour hostage period, the thugs fled with the stolen goods - phones, computers, chargers, money, wallets and jewellery.
Kelly said that his girlfriend was soon able to remove her restraints and help to untie the rest of the travellers.
“She then untied my hands which at this point I couldn't feel as they were tied up so tight. We were tied up by our own shoelaces. We then helped untie everyone else,” he said.
He then flagged down help with the aid of another tourist.
Kelly suspects the attack wasn’t a singular event, but instead just one example in a long list.
“There’s nothing that we know as to why the shuttle was targeted, however it was definitely not the first time they had done this,” he said.
He added: “The track they took us up into the bush leads one to assume it happens fairly regularly.”
The young couple, who decided to cut their trip short after the terrifying ordeal, are speaking out about their experience in the hopes of warning other tourists who plan to visit the central American country.
“Guatemala is a beautiful country ruined by three thugs. We, and our friends, will never ever go back.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade's SafeTravel website says there is "some risk to security" in Guatemala due to violent crime and incidents of civil unrest and they advise caution.
"Guatemala has one of the highest violent crime rates in Latin America," the site says.
"New Zealanders in Guatemala should remain security conscious and exercise a high degree of caution at all times."
The couple have been interviewed by local authorities and have given a statement, but do not believe the Guatemalan police will pursue the assailants.
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