Costa Mesa, CA – The American tourist who was kidnapped during a safari in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park in April said she felt compassion for her kidnappers who became her “protectors.”
Kimberly Endicott and her safari guide, Jean-Paul “JP” Mirenge Remezo, were kidnapped at gunpoint by four men as they traveled through the national park on an evening game drive on April 2, FOX News reported.
There was an elderly couple on the tour, too. But the kidnappers let them go.
Endicott and her guide, a Congolese national, were forced to walk across the border from Uganda into the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it’s believed they were kept for most of the five days they were held captive, CBS News reported.
The kidnappers used Endicott’s phone to call and demand a ransom of $500,000 for the pair. They also let the 56-year-old Endicott use her own phone to call home and talk to her daughter.
“All security agencies such as the Uganda Police and the Uganda People’s Defense Forces including wardens from the Uganda Wildlife Authority have joined in the hunt for these outlaws with the main aim of safely securing the hostages,” the Ugandan tourism authority said in a statement after the kidnapping. “The lives of the kidnapped are a key priority during this process. We appeal for calm as we find a lasting solution to this issue.”
Endicott and Remezo were released on April 7 after a representative from Ugandan Wildlife Authority paid some portion of the ransom that had been demanded, FOX News reported.
Police claimed that no ransom had been paid but a source who worked for the safari company said that was untrue. He said Endicott and Remezo were “not rescued,” but were released when the payment was made.
“Otherwise she wouldn’t be back,” the source said, according to FOX News.
Four suspects were arrested for the kidnapping on April 8 and police are continuing to look for a fifth man, CBS News reported.
Ugandan police were able to track down Endicott’s abductors with the help of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) surveillance equipment.
Sources have said that at least 19 FBI agents were in Uganda assisting local authorities with the investigation, CBS News reported.
Endicott said that when she was rescued, she felt shame for thinking the United States hadn’t done anything to help her.
“When we pulled into Ishasha Camp I realized just what my government did for me. And I was overcome with shame for thinking they didn’t do anything. And gratitude like I’ve never felt in my life,” she said.
It hasn’t been revealed how much ransom was paid for her release, but it was not paid by the U.S. government and was likely paid by the tour company.
Endicott told CBS News that she found humanity in the men who had kidnapped her, as they trudged through the African bush.
“And then the sun is setting and we keep walking and it gets to complete, like, pitch darkness. So at one point we stopped. And I look up in the sky and I see the most beautiful sky I’ve ever seen in my life,” she explained. “It’s nothing like I’ve ever seen before. And that was when I became very aware of humanizing myself to them… I said, ‘Look at the sky.’ I said, ‘We don’t have this at home.'”
Endicott said she came to feel that her kidnappers were her protectors while she was in their custody.
“I just start talking to them like I’m talking to you,” she told CBS News.
She said her captors gave her bottled water to drink but got their own water out of holes in the ground.
“I remember laying down on the ground and I remember hearing JP say, ‘Oh my God,’ at my exhaustion. I don’t know how long I laid there,” Endicott said. “At one point I’m asked to get up. And I turn and look and they’ve made a tent for me out of tarps and a mosquito net, which, I remember that was the moment where I thought, ‘Why are they taking such good care of me?'”
She said there was no way she couldn’t feel compassion for the men who were holding her hostage.
“’Cause that’s their life. It’s not really above living like an animal. That’s their life. If I survive this, I have a life to go back to. That’s their life,” Endicott said. “That does not condone what they did. Not even close.”
She said the men who were keeping her captive were also keeping her safe.
“They could’ve sold me to a different group. When I went out in the open they had guns that also protected me. It could’ve been so much worse than it was,” Endicott said.
After surviving the ordeal and returning home, she told CBS News one of her greatest worries was the damage her kidnapping had done to the Ugandan tourism industry.