His friends and family waiting for his flight to arrive yesterday at Dulles International Airport tooted party horns and shouted "We Want Rick" so loudly, and for so long, that others approached the group, shyly, to ask, "Who Is Rick?"
"A movie star," said one of Rick's friends, hoisting a large "Welcome Home" sign. "No, a recluse millionaire," yelled somebody else. "He defended the virtue of three American girls," yelled another friend.
When a tearful Rick finally rolled into the arrival area in a wheelchair, amidst whoops, yelps and handfuls of tossed pink and blue confetti, more than a few bystanders knew his story: 21-year-old Rick Vergot of Vienna, a senior at George Mason University, was on his way home from Mexico City, where he had been stabbed 19 times during a street robbery.
"I feel great," Rick said, smiling. His girlfriend, 19-year-old Suzanne Gilbert, said, "Fantastic! I feel so good he's here. He's alive -- that's the miracle."
Vergot, who is chairman of George Mason's student government senate, left July 1 for Mexico, where he and seven other George Mason students were to study for seven weeks at the Universidad Ibero-Americana in Chrubusco, a suburb about 10 miles from Mexico City.
The program was George Mason's first in Mexico, and the Universidad Ibero-Americana was selected over other institutions because of faculty recommendations, including one from Martha Paley Francescato, head of George Mason's foreign language department.
On July 8, Vergot and several other American students went out dancing to celebrate Vergot's 21st birthday. They celebrated until shortly after midnight, then hailed a cab. According to Vergot, the cabdriver stopped several blocks from the home of the host Mexican family where the women students were staying, and refused to go any farther, saying the neighborhood was unsafe.
Although Vergot said he had been warned when he arrived in Mexico about walking along dark narrow streets at night, this street was well-lit, with many passing cars. "I wouldn't consider it one of the cleanest areas," he said, "but I wouldn't consider it 14th Street."
After escorting the young women home, Vergot -- who is 6-feet-5 and weighs 240 pounds -- started walking to the home he had been assigned by the Mexican university. He turned a corner and was stabbed in the back with a weapon that doctors later described as long and thin, perhaps an ice pick.
Vergot said he swung around to face two men whom he guessed to be in their late teens and slugged one on the nose. Then, he said, four more men grabbed him from behind and began punching and stabbing him.
"They screamed at me something I couldn't understand," said Vergot, a 1982 Oakton High School graduate. "I pulled all the coins out of my pocket and offered money, and said in Spanish it was all I had. In American money, it was probably less than $2."
His assailants took the money, his watch and his size 13 Topsider shoes and ran off, he said, leaving him bleeding from 19 stab wounds, one of which was later determined to be two inches from his heart.
"I laid there for a while," he said." . . . I'm not sure how long. I'm not sure if I lost consciousness. I remember thinking I had to get up. I tried to get the passing cars, but nobody would stop. My right lung was 60 percent collapsed at that point, and it was hard to breathe."
He said one bystander refused to help, but a second called Vergot's Mexican host family, who picked him up and took him to a clinic. Later, he was transferred to a hospital, where he remained in bed until yesterday's flight home.
He said Mexican doctors had told him to rest for a couple of weeks.
Vince Hovanec, a press officer with the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, said yesterday that local police are investigating the incident, but that there are no suspects. He said officials from the Mexican university told him such incidents involving students are rare.
Shirley Ruedy, overseas program adviser in George Mason's Office of International Services and Programs, said the university's remaining students in Mexico were given the option of coming home or changing residences, but that none did.
She also said George Mason officials are investigating the incident and want to see a copy of the Mexican police report, as well as speak to Vergot, before deciding whether to reoffer the program, change or discontinue it. "There are a lot of unanswered questions," she said.