SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- A graduate program at the University of San Diego that teaches peacebuilding will evaluate whether or not to send students back to Culiacán, Mexico. The concern comes after Thursday's bloody battle involving Mexican federal troops and the son of notorious drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.
The USD Kroc School's Trans-Border Institute has been regularly taking graduate students to Culiacán for the last five years, offering seminars and certificate programs in peacebuilding that have had an impact on the region, said program director Ev Meade.
"It's one of the only states in Mexico that's actually improved with respect to violence and was on the upswing until 3:30 yesterday afternoon and now all bets are off," Meade said in an interview.
Meade was scheduled to speak at a conference on Friday but had to cancel the trip abruptly when cartel shooters laid siege to the city.
The incident began when members of the Mexican National Guard patrolling a neighborhood in Culiacan and were ambushed by members of the Sinaloa drug cartel. Among those members of the criminal gang was Ovidio Guzman Lopez, the son of "El Chapo" Guzman.
Cartel forces blocked roads with burning cars and demanded the release of El Chapo's son, who had been captured by Mexican security forces.
Violence spread across the city until authorities suspended operations and released Ovidio Guzman Lopez.
At least seven people were killed in the battle, one Mexican National Guard member, one civilian, and five cartel members, according to Security Minister Alfonso Durazo.
"It was terrifying. I had friends who were trapped in their offices. Other friends who were trapped in restaurant bathrooms," said Meade.
The USD program in Culiacán has trained hundreds of local activists, public officials, and entrepreneurs in peacebuilding and social innovation, according to the Kroc School.
Thursday's violence showed an entire militia of criminals could descend on the city in less than an hour, Meade said. He and school leaders are now weighing whether to send students back.
"I mean this is the point of a school of peace studies to go to places in conflict and help. Apply our best knowledge and methods. So have not given up," he said.
"But our calculations as to what is safe and what is not -- a lot of that stuff remains to be seen."