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

Kevin and GerfaNorm Shafer/Getty Images

Alone

After Gerfa left, time slowed for Kevin. “The days just went longer and longer.” And then about a month after his mom had left, the militants took his cousin away. Was he freed? Killed? Kevin had no idea.

And then he caught a break.

One day, Kevin noticed that there was only one guard nearby. “It was time,” he says. “I couldn’t stay there any longer.” He had been a hostage almost five months.

When the guard went upstairs, Kevin crept through the door into the next room. When he heard the guard’s footsteps returning, he bolted.

Kevin ran quickly and silently away from the huts, straight to the river, where trees would help hide him. He was shaking with fear, and his legs were rubbery, weak from being confined for so long. In the river, he struggled in the deep, fast current that moved against him. He kept falling, slipping on the pink rubber flip-flops his captors had given him. But he never stopped moving. After several hours, he dashed up a steep hill to see where he was, then turned in the direction of the ocean. His goal: get off the island.

Night fell with a full moon. Kevin found an empty hut and hid in it for a brief, tense rest. Looking around, he found a pair of boots. He pulled them onto his blackened, torn feet and took off again.

He scrambled up and down hills and mountains, getting closer to the coast. A few times, he saw people farming, but he stayed away, scared that they might be supporters of the militants.

Then toward nightfall the next day, he was spotted crossing a plantation. A farmer called out to him. Kevin started to run, but the man had a gun. “What are you doing here?” he demanded. Exhausted and terrified, Kevin told him the truth.

Kevin warily followed the man back to his house, where the farmer told him he’d called police. Could he be trusted? He could just as easily have informed the militants. Then Kevin heard it. A whoop whoop sound. The sound of a helicopter.

Coming Home

In Lynchburg, Heiko was delivering holiday turkeys to Centra Health employees on December 10 when he got the call telling him that Kevin was free. Heiko hadn’t even considered celebrating Christmas, but with Gerfa, Kevin, and Kevin’s cousin—who had been
released—all safe, Heiko that afternoon bought $100 worth of ornaments, put up a tree, and stacked gifts all around.

Kevin, who nearly lost his life at the hands of terrorists half a world away from where he grew up, would come home to a house blazing with Christmas lights.

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