National Geographic’s show Locked Up Abroad features stories from travelers who have been imprisoned abroad. Tonight’s episode, titled “Jungle Terror,” features the story of Gerfa and Kevin Lunsmann, who were held captive by terrorists in the Philippines in 2011.
According to ABC News, the two were vacationing in the Philippines with Kevin’s cousin Romnick Jakaria when the kidnapping happened. They were on an island near Zamboanga City when they were first taken, and then they were transported by boat to Basilan.
Their captors called their family in Campbell County, Virginia to demand a ransom payment. Kevin was only 14 years old at the time.
Kevin Was Held For Five Months
According to a Washington Post article, a commander of the group who kidnapped the Lunsmanns told Gerfa that if her husband didn’t pay a $100 million ransom, she and Kevin would be killed. When she told him that even the government did not have that much money, he told her it would be ten million then. She said she pointed to a star, saying that if the man could get that star, then her husband would be able to get $10 million.
The men would call Gerfa’s husband Heiko and make him listen to Kevin and Gerfa crying out in pain. Sometimes he would get to talk to Gerfa. At that point, they were being helped by the FBI and authorities believed that they had been kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist group in the Philippines known for bombings, executions and kidnappings.
At one point, they realized that a newer hostage had been rescued, but the Lunsmanns were still hostages.
“The hopelessness just comes in so easily,” she said. “But you try to bring yourself out of it and say, ‘Don’t give up.’ Every time I look at Kevin, I think, ‘We can get out of here.'”
Two and a half months into their capture, the terrorists told Kevin that Gerfa was going to leave. Family friend Jean Gowen told ABC News that the family paid an undisclosed ransom amount, but the captors only released Gerfa and not Kevin.
With the protection of U.S. officials and FBI agents, Gerfa stayed in Manila, becoming the one to negotiate with the terrorists. She didn’t want to get home without Kevin.
Kevin Escaped His Captors
The men gave Kevin a backpack for when they marched, and Kevin kept it ready and filled with the various gear he had collected. He had a raincoat, two half-gallon jugs plus an extra bottle of water, a piece of rope, a few candles, and crackers.
One day, he noticed that it was very quiet in the camp and the only person he could see was really busy. He knew then that it was his chance to escape, he said. He took his backpack, putting it by a window and also grabbed a long knife, slipping it into the bag.
He ran quietly and quickly, straight to the river where he ran into the water. He ran for days, stopping only when he absolutely needed to rest or eat some of the food he’d snuck in his bag.
Two days after he escaped, he was stopped by a farmer who had a gun. When Kevin explained his situation to the man, the man told him he would help him.
Kevin and his mom both returned home on in December 2011. They came home to a house lit up with Christmas decorations; Heiko had decorated once he heard they were safe and would be returning home soon.
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