This is what’s known about six teens from Burundi who came to D.C. to participate in an international robotics competition and disappeared on the last day of the event. (Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)
Two of the six teenage members of the Burundi robotics team who went missing from Washington this week have crossed into Canada and are safe, D.C. police said on Thursday.
The four others also are believed to be in safe hands, but authorities declined to provide further details. It is the first indication that the teenagers may have left on their own accord.
A D.C. police spokeswoman identified the teens in Canada as Don Charu Ingabire, 16, and Audrey Mwamikazi, 17. Authorities would not describe how the teenagers planned to leave Washington or how the two made it to Canada.
The teens had come to the District to compete in an international FIRST Global Challenge robotics competition, which drew young people from 157 nations to Constitution Hall in Northwest Washington.
Police said the teens from the small East African country were reported missing Wednesday. They were last seen about 5 p.m. Tuesday, shortly before the event closed around 6:30 p.m. In addition to Ingabire and Mwamikazi, Richard Irakoze, 18, Kevin Sabumukiza, 17, Nice Munezero, 17 and Aristide Irambona, 18, also were reported missing.
Police posted fliers of the missing teens on the department’s Twitter account. FIRST Global issued a statement on Wednesday saying an adult mentor could not find the team members.
A spokesman for the group, Jose P. Escotto, said on Thursday that he could not confirm that authorities had located the teens. “We haven’t been informed of anything,” he said at 10:30 a.m.
FIRST Global is run by Joe Sestak, a former Navy admiral and congressman, who called police after receiving word the team had gone missing.
Officials from the Burundi Embassy in Washington said Thursday they are aware of the situation but had no other information. A State Department spokesman referred all questions to local authorities.
Burundi has been roiled by civil war and complaints of human rights abuses. In 2015, Burundi’s president, the former Hutu rebel leader Pierre Nkurunziza, successfully sought reelection to a third term. Mass protests organized by the opposition were put down, and the climate grew more repressive after an attempted coup in May 2015.
The State Department issued a travel warning in late June, advising Americans of “political tensions, political and criminal violence, and the potential for civil unrest.”
That warning stated that rebel forces, ex-combatants and youth gangs from Congo had reportedly attacked and kidnapped civilians, while armed groups have ambushed vehicles.
Hundreds of people have been killed, and hundreds more have disappeared, allegedly the work of Burundi’s security forces. In the past two years, more than 400,000 people have fled the country, according to human rights activists.
Escotto said he believed the Burundi team members had attended closing ceremonies, which began at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The organization’s statement said that students were housed in dormitories at Trinity Washington University and were “always to be under close supervision of their adult mentor and are advised not to leave the premises unaccompanied by the mentor.”
Ann Pauley, a spokeswoman for the university, referred all questions to FIRST Global. She confirmed that the organization rented residence hall space for some of the visiting teams.
“First Local was fully responsible for supervision of the students,” Pauley said Thursday. “Trinity was notified of the missing Burundi team and is fully cooperating with the investigation.”
Pauley declined to say whether the team had packed or left behind personal items and clothes.
This week’s competition had already garnered global headlines after a group of teenage girls from Afghanistan was initially barred from getting visas to the United States. Organizers had previously hosted domestic competitions, but this was the first international event.
Carol Morello contributed to this report.