A kidnapped US teenage boy escaped from suspected al-Qaeda-linked militants and wandered without shoes for two days in a southern Philippine jungle before villagers found him, ending his five-month captivity, officials said yesterday.
Kevin Lunsmann, 14, told his four armed captors that he would take a bath in a stream and then made a dash for freedom on Friday in Basilan province, police Senior Superintendent Edwin de Ocampo said. He followed a river down a mountain until villagers found him late the next day, de Ocampo said.
Exhausted, hungry and still stunned, the boy initially fled from the villagers, de Ocampo said.
“He was in fear so there was a bit of a chase before the villagers convinced him that they were friends,” de Ocampo said.
He said the boy was fine, but was exhausted and had bruises on his arms and feet.
Initial reports had said the boy was freed by his captors.
Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat said he has been flown to Manila and turned over to US officials there.
US Ambassador Harry Thomas said the boy would be reunited with his family soon.
“In this holiday season, nothing makes me happier than knowing that an innocent victim is returned to his family in time for holiday -celebrations,” Thomas said in a statement. “I also want to acknowledge the courage of Kevin himself, and his family, throughout this long ordeal.”
Thomas said there would be a “speedy investigation and prosecution of all those involved in the kidnapping of American citizens.”
Lobregat said the boy has talked by telephone with his Philippine-American mother, Gerfa Yeatts Lunsmann, who was in the US. He, his mother and a Philippine cousin were vacationing with relatives on an island near Zamboanga City when they were snatched on July 12 and taken by boat to nearby Basilan.
The captors then called the family in Campbell County, Virginia, to demand a ransom, officials said.
The mother was freed two months ago after she was dropped off by boat at a wharf on Basilan. The boy’s Philippine cousin escaped from their captors last month when Philippine army forces managed to get near an Abu Sayyaf camp in the mountains of Basilan.
Lobregat said he was unaware if any ransom changed hands.
Ransom kidnappings have long been a problem in the impoverished region and are blamed mostly on the Abu Sayyaf, an al-Qaeda-linked group on a list of US terrorist organizations, and its allied armed groups. The militants are notorious for kidnappings, beheadings and bombings.
The Abu Sayyaf, which has less than 400 armed fighters, was founded on Basilan in the 1990s as an offshoot of a violent Muslim insurgency that has been raging for decades.
They are believed to be still holding an Indian, a Malaysian and a Japanese in their jungle strongholds on Jolo island, near Basilan.