ZAMBOANGA CITY (Mindanews/11 December) – A 14-year old American who was kidnapped along with his mother and a cousin nearly five months ago in an island barangay here was freed in Lamitan City Saturday night.
Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang, spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command said Kevin Eric Lunsmann, was freed at around 8:30 p.m. Saturday in Barangay Bolingan, Lamitan City, Basilan. No details of the release has been released. Cabangbang said they are “still gathering information on the circumstances.”
Lunsmann and his mother, Gerfa Yeatts, 42, were on vacation in Tictabon, an island barangay 8.5 kilometers east of this city, when gunmen believed to be Abu Sayyaf bandits seized them last July 19.
They were seized together with his cousin, Romnick Jakaria, a resident of Malamawi Island, Isabela City, Basilan, who arrived in Tictabon to visit them a day before the incident.
It is not clear if ransom was paid although earlier reports disclosed the kidnappers demanded $10 million ransom in exchange for the release of the victims.
A Crisis Management Committee (CMC) under Mayor Celso Lobregat was set up to coordinate efforts to get the Lunsmanns out.
Miilitary and police authorities including the Crisis Management Committee (CMC) declined to refused to confirm the reported ransom demand.
Cabangbang said Lt. Col. Russel Pompa, chief of the Army’s 32nd Infantry Battalion command, immediately brought Lunsmann to the 104th Infantry Brigade headquarters in Isabela City, the capital of Basilan.
The Lunsmanns arrived in Tictabon Island on June 29 and were supposed to fly back to Manila on July 13 en route to America.
The boy’s mother, born to a Filipino couple in Pangapuyan Island near Tictabon, was adopted at the age of nine by a German couple who raised her in America.
Ms Lunsmann, a veterinarian by profession, is married to a German national named Hiko Lunsmann and they are based in Virginia.
She was freed on October 2 in the town of Maluso, Basilan province, while Jakaria was released last November 12 in the same town.
I am delighted to confirm that teenage kidnap victim Kevin Lunsmann is free tonight. In this holiday season nothing makes me happier than knowing that an innocent victim is returned to his family in time for holiday celebrations. I also want to acknowledge the courage of Kevin himself, and his family, throughout this long ordeal.
In Manila, US Ambassador Harry K. Thomas, Jr. announced in a press statement that “Kevin Lunsmann is free tonight.”
“In this holiday season nothing makes me happier than knowing that an innocent victim is returned to his family in time for holiday celebrations. I also want to acknowledge the courage of Kevin himself, and his family, throughout this long ordeal,” Thomas said.
He acknowledged the “tireless” efforts exerted by the Philippine government for Kevin’s release” but said his freedom “is not the end of the process” and that they “look for speedy investigation and prosecution of all those involved in the kidnapping of American citizens.”
He acknowledged the “valuable partnership between the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police, and especially the PACER unit, for its support during this crisis.”
He also thanked Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat for his “invaluable support in bringing this case to resolution.”
“During these long months of captivity of the Lunsmanns, the FBI, our Joint Special Operations Task Force –Philippines (JSOTF-P), and other U.S. government agencies have worked closely with their Philippine counterparts for a successful resolution of this situation. I am so glad to see Kevin free once again, and soon to be reunited with his family. If ever we are to be inspired by the human spirit, we should take comfort in the courage, commitment and love that the Lunsmann family exhibited during this trying ordeal. I am proud to call them my friends. From my perspective, the tireless cooperation between U.S. government and Philippine authorities is proof that no crime will go unpunished.”
Meanwhile, an attempted abduction Thursday afternoon of three teachers in a remote barangay also in the eastern part of this city, was foiled by a militia on patrol.
Cabangbang said the incident took place at around 3:45 p.m. Thursday in Barangay Limaong, 83 kilometers east of this city.
He said five men armed with caliber .45 pistols entered the Limaong Elementary School and dragging teachers Riza Dela Cruz, Lee Mariano and Lerna Cabilis out of the campus when a group of militiame on patrol passed and fired warning shots. (MindaNews)