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FBI Team Helping in Guatemala Attack Investigation

FBI Team Helping in Guatemala Attack Investigation



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GUATEMALA CITY (AP) -- The FBI is sending a team of investigators to help Guatemalan officials probe the attack on a busload of American tourists in which one was killed, the U.S. Embassy said Friday.

Embassy Spokesman Ryan Rowlands said six FBI agents would be sent from Miami to help local authorities, who said Friday they have not yet been able to identify suspects.

"All cooperation by other countries is welcome to clarify a case such as this," said local police spokesman Faustino Sanchez.

Thirteen Mormons, most from Ogden and Salt Lake City were traveling from the mountain city of Quetzaltenango to the Mexican border on Wednesday when men with automatic weapons opening fire to force their bus to halt.

Brett Richards, a 52-year-old architect, was shot in the chest. He died en route to the hospital. The robbers led the other passengers into a forest along the highway and forced them to lie face-down before stealing their belongings.

Richards's body could be returned to the United States as early as Friday, according to Guillermo Poggio, director of the funeral home handling arrangements.

The attack took place in Colomba, 120 miles west of the capital, Guatemala City. For more than a century, the area depended on growing low-altitude, low-quality coffee. A sharp drop in coffee prices in recent years has made low-grade beans virtually worthless, however, forcing many plantations in the area to shutdown.

As unemployment has skyrocketed, violent crime has become a serious problem in the region, Sanchez said.

The highway between Quetzaltenango and the Mexican border is a narrow stretch of curvy blacktop where roadside ambushes have become commonplace, Sanchez said.

Hundreds of police set up road blocks in the area and cruised through nearby towns in search of the pickup truck the robbers used to make their getaway. But Sanchez said late Thursday that authorities were no closer to apprehending the suspects.

After spending the night with church leaders near Colomba, the group was taken to Guatemala City, where they met in private with U.S. Ambassador John Hamilton.

Richards was joined on the trip by his wife, Becky, and his brother, Reed, a former chief deputy Utah attorney general.

Police said the group was on a vacation organized by Book of Mormon Tours of Orem, Utah. Many Mormons believe archaeological ruins in Central America were built by people described in the Book of Mormon, which church founder Joseph Smith said he translated from a set of golden plates.

Richards was a partner in Richards Bott Architects P.C., and had served previously as a bishop, the lay leader of a Mormon congregation.

It was the first reported murder of a U.S. citizen in Guatemala since July 2002, but 10 Americans were killed over the three previous years.

In July, armed men attacked a tourist bus in Solola, some 90 miles west of Guatemala City, and stole jewelry and money from the nine foreigners aboard.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) .

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