Parts 1 – 4 are available by clicking these links:
***If this were a book or novel, you wouldn’t likely have learned of Ben’s part of the story before this part. As you read this, you already know (from reading Part 4) that roadblocks, for instance, are not going to be effective in finding Ben, since the kidnapper had taken him off-road, up into the forested hills. Just remember that at this point in the story we didn’t know what was happening to him, so we were following up on anything that might possibly be helpful.
***Some details of this post may not exactly match what Ben reported in his. Rather than try to figure out exactly whose recollection is accurate, I’m just leaving it as it is, and letting you know that it’s hard for people to remember every detail perfectly, especially in such a scary situation, so some small details won’t match up!
***I don’t have pictures of police checkpoints or men searching fields, to illustrate this part of the story, so instead, you’ll get random photos of Ben growing up with the other kids. The first one was taken one day before the kidnapping, as the family prepared to ride the zip line in La Campa Lempira. Check out the happy honeymooners!
While I was at the police station in Gracias, giving my statement, Allen and Russell were at the location where I’d been dropped off, calling in anyone who might be able to help. The police – initially six uniformed police and several detectives, all heavily armed – had arrived quickly and started combing the area. Before long, men from Gracias who have become our friends over the years started to come out to search. Russell’s father-in-law was out there. Groups of men from several nearby villages formed search parties and headed out to look. Our whole extended community was on the lookout for Ben! The local churches started praying.
Close to the place Ben had last been seen, searchers found some recent tire tracks in the mud, and several farm gates that had been left open, leading us to suspect that the kidnapper had hidden a vehicle in that area prior to initiating the kidnapping, and had by now left with Ben by road.
Roadblocks had already been set up on the main roads going in and out of our area. Allen had contacted many of the more out-of-the-way places to get additional roadblocks in those areas, and our new son-in-law contacted his military superiors to arrange for additional roadblocks across the country.
Russell, Ben’s 24 year old brother, worked the phone diligently on Ben’s behalf, speaking with police chiefs from a number of nearby and more distant cities, the Alcaldes (mayors) of nearby municipalities, and the Governor of Lempira. During this time, and throughout the next 24 hours, Allen and Russell were rarely off the phone, except during the few hours they slept that night. They were calling in any forms of assistance they could possibly think of. Over the course of the 30 hours this all lasted, Allen and Russell, from 2 phones, made and answered over 600 calls!
Friends contacted the US Embassy for us. Because I had been kidnapped and held, as well as Ben, the FBI was called in to help (Ben is not a US citizen). The FBI is limited in what they can do in Central America, but they got involved doing what was allowed of them, assisting the Honduran authorities in the investigation.
The first call from the kidnapper, to my husband Allen’s phone, came after Ben had been gone about half an hour. The kidnapper was using my cell phone to make the ransom calls, using the numbers I had stored there. The ransom demand was set at 3 million Lempiras, and the deadline for the kidnapper to receive the money was Tuesday morning at 8am. As it was already after noon on Monday, even if we did have 3 million Lempiras – which we don’t – we couldn’t have had it in cash by the deadline. The kidnapper threatened vaguely, saying, “If I don’t get that money, you know what will happen.”
Following that first call, Allen gave his phone to Russell, and Russell was the one to talk with the kidnapper for the rest of our interactions with him, as Russell is able to more perfectly understand Spanish idioms and nuances. This is a lot of responsibility for a young man, but Russell is strong and resourceful (in addition to speaking amazingly good Honduran Spanish), and we were confident that having him field the calls was the best way to handle this. The kidnapper called a second time about a half hour after the first call, and spoke with Russell. The demands – and the threats – were the same.
We were, of course, trying to explain to the kidnapper that we’re just missionaries, and we don’t have that kind of money. We didn’t say to him, “We won’t pay a ransom,” because that seemed to us to give the kidnapper no reason to keep Ben alive. Our hope was that the longer we kept the kidnapper talking and negotiating, the better chance we’d have of finding Ben before the situation got even worse.
Allen came into Gracias, to be with me and also to purchase a replacement phone for his own use. Russell remained out at the search site, on the phone, most of the afternoon. When they each returned to their own homes, they continued to field and place phone calls. Russell took Allen’s phone home with him, in case the kidnapper should call again.
While all of that was going on, I finished up at the police station – where I discovered that I am quite possibly the worst witness in the history of ever. I simply hadn’t paid attention to details at all! In my own defense, I had kicked into full on “mother-mode” with Ben for most of the time we were with the kidnapper, and so my focus was almost entirely on him. The joke at my house is that I’ll know to do better the next time I’m kidnapped. I sure hope it remains just a joke!
Once done with my statement to the police, I went to a hotel in town, and used the internet while waiting for news from the searchers. I updated my private Facebook group of prayer warriors with as much info as I felt it would be safe to share, and encouraged them to keep putting out requests for prayer using very vague details . . . my only thought was to get as many people praying as possible! Eventually some fellow missionaries from the Gracias area drove me home. My 19 year old son was home alone, and I wanted to go and be with him.
My family was scattered all about. One daughter was off on her honeymoon, two other daughters had left early that morning to drive some of the wedding guests to the airport (and they were wondering why there were so very many police checkpoints at which every single car was being searched on this particular day – we didn’t inform them of the kidnapping until later in the day). Russell was in town answering and making phone calls, 19 year old Gus was at home, and Ben . . . we didn’t know where Ben was.
From that point until Ben was released, I was pretty much on the internet the whole time, trying to keep those who were praying informed with whatever info could be shared at that moment. Women from my Facebook group set up a sign-up time chart, to make sure that there would be non-stop prayers going up on Ben’s behalf throughout the night and the next day. I know most of these friends didn’t just pray during their one hour or half hour slot, but prayed continuously, with many tears, throughout the night. They also kept me company in my vigil, and encouraged me to try to sleep, with assurances that they would not cease praying while I did so. I managed to get about two hours of sleep that night.
Russell received a couple more calls from the kidnapper, around 8pm. Nothing had changed, except that the kidnapper was a bit more specific in his threats. Russell won’t tell me exactly what the threats were, which is probably for the best.