Teen, 14, Escapes After Being Held Hostage for Five Months

An American teenager has escaped from a suspected al Qaeda-linked group

December 11, 2011, 3:09 PM

Dec. 11, 2011— -- An American teenage boy outsmarted the members of a suspected al Qaeda-linked militants, escaping after five months of being held hostage in a jungle in the Philippines.

Kevin Lunsmann, 14, was lost for nearly two days, roaming without shoes, before he was found by villagers, his father said.

ABC News affiliate WSET spoke to the boy's father, Heiko Lunsmann, who said he's so happy he's getting his son back.

"I'm so proud of my son, he's a hero, he wandered two days through the jungle," Heiko Lunsmann said.

"That was a tough time, it was tough five months," he said. "I only know he is a hero and I'm so happy he escaped."

When he spoke to this father for the first time the boy proudly said, "I did it on my own, Dad, they didn't release me, I did it," family friend Jean Gowen told ABC News.

Kevin Lunsmann said he convinced his four armed captors that he was going to take a bath at a nearby stream, but then he decided to make a run for it. He followed a river down a mountain in Basilan province before being found with bruises on his arms and feet late the next day by villagers.

Police Senior Superintendant Edwin de Ocampo told The Associated Press that Lunsmann was exhausted, hungry and still stunned when he was found. He initially feared the villagers and fled from them as well.

"He was in fear, so there was a bit of a chase before the villagers convinced him that they were friends," de Ocampo told the AP.

This past summer, Lunsmann was vacationing in the Philippines with his Filipino-American mother, Gerfa Yeatts Lunsmann, and his cousin Romnick Jakaria. On July 12 the relatives were on an island near Zamboanga City when they were snatched and taken by boat to Basilan.

The captors then called the family in Campbell County, Va., to demand a ransom.

Gowen said Heiko Lunsmann paid an undisclosed ransom amount intended for the release of the boy and his mother two months ago, but only the mother was released.

"The deal was for them to release both Kevin and Gerfa at the time, but they only released one of them," Gowen said. "I think they wanted more money."

The mother was freed when captors dropped her off at a wharf on Basilan. Lunsmann's cousin also escaped from hostage holders last month, when Filipino army forces managed to get near the camp where they were held.

Army Coronel Ricardo Visaya told the AP the kidnappers are believed to be led by a militant, Puruji Indama, of Abu Sayyaf, an al Qaeda-linked group on a list of U.S. terrorist organizations. They are reportedly responsible for kidnappings, beheadings, and bombings.

Visaya said troops were hunting down the militants and clashed with one group in nearby Akbar town, which may have distracted the kidnappers and gave Lunsmann a chance to flee.

Ransom kidnappings have long been a problem in the region and are blamed mostly on Abu Sayyaf. The group was founded in Basilan in the 1990s as part of a violent Muslim insurgency.

On Monday, suspected militants abducted Warren Richard Rodwell, 53, of Australia from his house in Zamboanga Sibugay province. The group is also believed to still be holding three other foreign hostages in another island near Basilan.

Teen Hostage Reunites With His Mother

Gowen said Lunsmann's father ran to neighbors last night, excited to share the miraculous update on his son.

"He banged on my door and broke down crying when he told me," Gowen said. "I cried and screamed, too. It was at the point where we all feared they were going to kill him, we've all just been devastated."

Heiko Lunsmann said he has been in contact with both his wife and son, and that they've been reunited and are currently at a hospital in Manila, Gowen said.

"That was a tough time, it was a tough fine months," Heiko Lunsmann told WSET. "It wasn't easy for me."

Gowen says she's happy her son's best friend will be back.

"He's such a fine boy. He's very quiet and polite. He's been my son Zach's best friend for 10 years," Gowen said. "Kevin is like another son to me. Life just hasn't been the same without him."

Family and friends are hoping the Lunsmanns will be home sometime next week in time for the holidays.

"His father is decorating the house as we speak," Gowen said. "They want everything to be as normal as possible for Kevin's arrival."

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