The attackers were allegedly Doe Run employees.
There were no serious injuries and the student group returned safely to Lima ― four hours west of La Oroya ― the following day. The Arizona students returned to the U.S. March 20.
The PCM group was visiting Joining Hands Peru (JHP) ― a partnership ministry of the Presbyterian Hunger Program ― in La Oroya for a week to accompany JHP youth there.
“This is a week long program that we did last year with a different college group and is similar to previous accompaniment trips from other groups in years past,” Koball said in an email to World Mission and Presbyterian Hunger Program staff here. “Our objective was to learn from the youth in La Oroya about the issues they are addressing, talk with local authorities, visit a local church and paint a mural in the town reflecting a theme that the youth from La Oroya wanted to address.
Koball said La Oroya government officials gave permission and space for the mural on a wall along the central highway running through La Oroya about 200 meters from the entrance to the Doe Run plant.
“The theme of the mural was very general about working together across cultures and distances in caring for creation,” Koball said. “The mural and its message had nothing to do specifically with La Oroya nor Doe Run Peru.”
The smelter ― owned and operated by St. Louis-based Doe Run Company ― has been the subject of Peruvian government investigations and protests by humanitarian and environmental groups in Peru and the U.S. for its massive pollution of air and water in and around La Oroya. A St Louis University study found high blood lead levels in virtually all of the children in Old La Oroya in 2005.
The Rev. Elinor Stock of St. Louis-based Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery’s Friends of La Oroya, said in a press release: “The attack on this volunteer group which threatened their lives was unprovoked and outrageous. Human rights lawyers in Lima are presently investigating the case.”