Four Walton students were safe from harm during their time in Brussels, Belgium despite being only six minutes away from the brutal attacks over spring break.
Roberto Pozuelo-Diaz, Gustavo Zavala, Belinda Henriquez and Sofia Cruz were traveling throughout Belgium, France and Germany for the World Business Dialogue annual conference when the suicide bombings occurred on March 22.
“We heard the third bomb that they found and it exploded ‘safely’ and that was really scary,” Zavala, senior marketing major, said. “We immediately opened the windows, and later we found out that it was the attacks.”
The death toll rose to 32 and more than 300 were injured when the terrorists initiated three explosions near the Zaventem airport, according to the Huffington Post.
The day after the attacks ISIS claimed responsibility for the coordinated attacks according to CNN.
On the day of the attacks, at 5:27 a.m., Pozuelo marked himself as safe in the Brussels explosions, through a Facebook checkpoint, as did the other three students on the trip. Over 70 Facebook friends ‘liked’ his check in and more than 15 Facebook friends commented.
Pozuelo, junior international business major, said, “Moments like this underline the importance of body of Christ united in prayer regardless of distance.”
“Thankfully, since we were six hours ahead we could inform our loved ones before most of them were even awake,” Pozuelo added. “I was surprised by the overwhelming amount of people who hugged me and were happy to see me safe back in school.”
Zavala, marketing major originally from El Salvador, said it reaffirmed the care from people in both his home in Siloam Springs and original home after he posted a photo of the group the following afternoon, and it received over 250 likes.
Cruz, senior management major, said she noticed the high levels of security the U.S. has compared to the more relaxed ones in Europe.
“The difference in security made me appreciate how much the US protects their people,” Cruz said.
All four students enjoyed their time abroad despite the heartache around them, and they maintained a positive perception of Belgium and Europe as a whole.
“My perception of Europe did not change because Europe is still beautiful and the attacks cannot be controlled by the government. They are not part of the culture,” Cruz added. “I don’t think something like that would change my perception of a country.”
Zavala said that Belgium’s people were outgoing and friendly and he was impacted by their continued friendliness when finding a taxi the day following the attacks.
“They were willing to help tourists after the attacks—there was even a hashtag to ask for help if you were a tourist in Brussels the day of the attacks in case you needed shelter, food or rides,” he said.
Pozuelo also described the hospitality of an English man in Belgium as they struggled to find a taxi ride to the bus station.
“He was a bigger set guy with a middle-eastern background and seemed happy to help tourists. We jumped in his car and after arriving at our destination, he refused to take our money,” Pozuelo said.
“I couldn’t help but smile and thank God for how such devastating situations bring people together,” he added.
As of March 24 there was debate as to whether there were more bombers on the loose. Ibrahim El Bakraoui has been identified as one of two suicide bombers at the Brussels airport and his brother Khalid El Bakraoui has been identified as the man behind the suicide blast near the metro station, according to CNN.
“After the attack there was a lot of uncertainty in the air. Knowing [the possibility] that another bomber is on the loose only adds to the uncertainty. Living in this fear of not knowing when or where the next attack will happen is almost as bad as the attacks themselves,” Pozuelo said.
Students agreed that hearing about terrorism is different then experiencing the terror of the situation.
“I believe media and movies desensitize us from reality and it’s at times difficult to understand that these types of attacks are real and that your friend or family member could be the one killed,” Pozuelo said.