Kidnapped by Terrorists: One Boy’s Story of Escape

What should have been a tranquil family vacation in the southern Philippines turned into an unending nightmare.

By Susan Svrluga from The Washington Post
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine October 2013


Lauren Castillo/Corbis


Deep in the jungle, Kevin was living with his mother and cousin in a five-by-six-foot makeshift cage made of sticks. At five-eight, Kevin was too tall to stand up inside.

At midday, the prisoners were given meager portions of pancakes or rice soup, and in the evening, one plate of rice for the three of them. Sometimes they didn’t know what they were eating, but they were so hungry, they didn’t care. Gerfa and Kevin both got sick: Kevin after eating what looked like goat brains or intestines, Gerfa after eating something shiny and hard, most likely goat hooves.

To pass the time, they watched the militants make bombs and clean their guns. They watched the animals around them in the jungle: monkeys and rats and birds and frogs. Gerfa shooed away the frogs, worried that poisonous snakes might slither after them into their cage, but she loved to watch them from a distance as they roamed about the jungle. “It was a constant reminder of how it is to be free,” she says.

Because the militants wouldn’t use names—they called Kevin “the boy” and Gerfa “the infidel”—and never revealed their own, the captives assigned names to them. Gerfa chose names of parasites: “The first one I called Enterobius vermicularis—pinworm.” Another, Falciparum, or malaria. Another was Entamoebas, which cause dysentery.

Days after a new hostage was dragged into camp, Kevin, Gerfa, and Kevin’s cousin were forced to march again. They finally collapsed in a windowless wooden room, the same size as their cage and buzzing with mosquitoes. A week later, they heard heavy gunfire off in the distance. Gerfa, piecing together her captors’ words, realized that the firefight had been government soldiers storming the other camp and that the other hostage had been rescued. She couldn’t stop thinking about it. They had come so close to freedom.

Next: “You’re free,” they said. But only one ransom had been paid »

Lauren Castillo/Corbis

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