Burglary at UO journalism school’s Ghana compound results in $25,000 in stolen goods

Eight laptops. Five iPhones. Two cameras. Two backpacks.

All told, students of the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication’s Media in Ghana program lost what they estimate adds up to approximately $25,000 in gear and cash last week when an unknown number of burglars broke into their compound in Accra in the middle of the night.

The students believe the burglars snuck in sometime after 3 a.m. on July 17 — that’s when senior advertising major Kinsey Bagwell made a trip to the bathroom. Two hours later, Carson York, a graduate student and former Oregon lineman, woke up to reach for his iPhone and check the time only to discover the phone was missing. He roused the rest of his housemates and soon afterward the 16 students discovered an open side window and a hole in the barbed wire that tops the cement fence surrounding the compound. A security guard who patrols the compound 24 hours a day hadn’t seen anything.

“I sat down in the living room with a few others and the feeling of helplessness set in,” senior journalism major Conor Armor said. “Just hours earlier, somebody had invaded our personal home — and even more frightening, been within inches of us while we slept — and there was absolutely nothing we could do to change that.”

Armor was relatively fortunate: The laptop he left in the living room was gone but he believes the pile of clothes next to his bed deterred the burglars from searching his bedroom for valuables. It would have been too much of a hassle to dig through the laundry.

Security has since been beefed up at the compound and the students have moved on, for the most part. Participants in the program intern for either an ad agency or a local media outlet and because some of the firms don’t have equipment to spare, students had been using their own laptops and cameras.

Bagwell didn’t lose anything during the burglary and has been lending her laptop to those who had theirs stolen.

Journalism major Kelly Vigil lost a Canon 60D digital camera and has been making-do with a point-and-shoot that program coordinator Leslie Steeves lent him. Although the loaner camera allows Vigil to shoot assignments for his internship, the memory card in the Canon had hundreds of photos and hours of video saved on it, which Vigil estimates amounts to nearly 120 hours of work.

“We really don’t know how to react to this,” Vigil said. “We’re trying to figure out what it means to us, not just as journalists but as human beings.”

The Media in Ghana blog hasn’t been updated since July 16, the longest it’s gone without a new entry since this year’s program started. Students say they’ve been working on ways to tell the story themselves.

This isn’t the first time Bagwell has had to deal with intruders — during her sophomore year, somebody tried to break into her home in Eugene. Bagwell set off her car’s alarm remotely when she noticed a potential burglar approaching, which promptly scared off the would-be intruder.

“Theft happens everywhere,” she said. “There’s no reason for somebody’s perception to change based off an incident that can easily occur in your hometown.”

And, indeed, students have kept a positive outlook on their two remaining weeks in Ghana. They say it helps that the locals have been sympathetic upon hearing about the incident, even if the police haven’t been helpful.

“Every Ghanaian I told of the burglary expressed horror and sorrow that their fellow countrymen would do such a thing,” Armor said. “Like any country, there are criminals in Ghana, and as apparently wealthy Americans, we are easy targets.”

Senior advertising major Michael Collins left his most expensive electronics in the U.S. in the event of theft 7,500 miles from home. He lost the equivalent of $50 in Cedi, the local currency, an Acer Chromebook he bought specifically for the trip and an iPod Classic.

But, he says, the incident hasn’t jaded his perception of the country or the trip. What he and many other students will remember most about their time in Ghana are the late-night card games, jumping out of boats and a visit to a local elementary school where Collins said students taught him and the other SOJC students “a thing or two about rhythm.”

“This has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience and you have to take everything as it comes,” he said.



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Eder Campuzano

Eder Campuzano

Eder is the Emerald's director of audience engagement. His work has appeared in The Oregonian, The Statesman Journal and the News-Register in McMinnville. He was also a founding member of the University of Oregon's competitive Pokémon league.