The gravity of the situation crossed Keyton Cornelius’s mind, again and again, as gunman Benjamin Peter Ashley held him and two others hostage in California’s remote Jawbone Canyon.
“We’re in the middle of the woods,” Cornelius recalled. “He could have shot the gun a thousand times and no one would have heard it.”
Cornelius and Jonathan Perez, both 19, spoke exclusively about their ordeal to ABC News. Perez and Cornelius, along with friend Will Kleier, embarked on a hunting trip to a cabin east of Bakersfield.
The trip took a terrifying turn when Ashley took them hostage July 28.
Ashley forced the men into the cabin one by one, carrying a sawed-off shotgun.
“Pretty much that whole entire two hours, he was just debating whether he should kill us or not,” Perez said.
“He said, ‘Bam bam bam, all of you guys can be in heaven right now,’” Cornelius said.
He also placed propane tanks around the cabin, they said, making them worried that he would blow up the cabin.
The friends devised a plan to escape, telling Ashley their parents would be arriving at the cabin soon, and he could take their ATV.
Once Ashley left, the men bolted.
“All we could think of is that he was hunting … us,” Cornelius said.
After about three hours, however, Kleier’s father, Loren, found the friends on the side of the road.
The men had escaped Ashley’s grip, but David Markiewitz did not. The dentist was found to shot to death in a nearby cabin two days later.
Ashley also was suspected of shooting at two SWAT team members before he was located and killed Saturday, bringing an end to the two-week manhunt.
Ashley’s hostages are thankful that they’re still alive.
“As of right now, I’m a little jumpy,” Cornelius said, calling himself “grateful.”