Utahns in London share stories of unrest

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LONDON -- Thousands of police officers are patrolling the streets of London trying to counter the fourth night of riots that have rocked the British capital. More than 100 police officers have been hurt in the violence and more than 450 rioters arrested.

There's rioting going on and so we had to get off a different station and find a different way home. It was pretty scary.

–Madison Purser

A group of Utahns is in the middle of the unrest. Forty BYU students are participating in a semester abroad program in the embattled city, and their families in Utah are concerned about their safety and ability to get around.

Student Madison Purcer was on the London subway system on her way home from seeing "Wicked" when police closed down her stop.

"There's rioting going on and so we had to get off a different station and find a different way home," said Purcer. "It was pretty scary."

For the past six weeks, the group has been staying at Palace Court near Queens Way -- just a few streets from some of the rioting.

"That scared me last night," Purcer said. "All the sirens when we were trying to go to bed."


Madison's mother, Shauna Purcer, got a panicked phone call from her daughter Monday night. For days, Shauna had been watching the unrest unfolding in London and could tell by her daughter's voice that she was scared.

"She said, ‘I hear sirens, I hear glass breaking, there's smoke outside.' It's scary," Shauna said.

Student Rachel Bult witnessed the destruction firsthand on a shopping trip Tuesday morning.

"When I was walking down Queens Way today, a lot of the stores had to get big boards to put on their windows because they are all shattered."

Stores and businesses have had to close early because of the rioting. "They're all preparing," said Bult. "That's why everything is closing early tonight, so they could get their stores ready."

Jenny Thorup is another BYU student in London. She wrote her family, "Remember how I told you that the riots were not anywhere near me? Well (do not panic), but there were some stores looted and rioting things going on last night just a few blocks away from us. Luckily, most of these things happen at night when we are all inside... but I just hope the Tube stations don't close up."

Her mother, Nancy, can only watch and wait -- hoping that Jenny stays safe and arrives home in time for a family wedding this weekend.

BYU students Madison Purcer and Rachel Bult are studying abroad in London.
BYU students Madison Purcer and Rachel Bult are studying abroad in London.

"Jenny is usually a very responsible, cautious individual, but she might just jump on that Tube and get out there and who knows what?" Nancy Thorup said. "I'm a little concerned about that."

Thanks to Skype and text messages, Shauna Purcer has stayed in constant contact with her daughter, but the distance between them is a little unnerving.

Shauna says she's just glad Madison and the other students are safe and that their trip will be over soon.

"It's a helpless feeling, knowing she is over there alone," she said. "Hopefully she will do what they tell her to do and she'll be safe.

The rioting has spread now to Nottingham, England -- 100 miles away from London. Utah businessman Nick Stagge was training retailers there Tuesday and cannot return to his hotel.

"Today they've put a lockdown on a major part of this city, buildings and restaurants," he said. "Are we even going to make it back to London tonight, or are they going to let us out, what's happening?"

Latter-day Saint missionaries serving in London are safe and have been told to stay away from areas of unrest. Stagge returns to Utah Wednesday and the BYU students come back on Thursday.

Story written by Carole Mikita with contributions from Shara Park.

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