Authorities are trying to capture a leopard who killed a toddler while at the Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. Tony Spitz has the details.
American tourist Kimberly Sue Endicott, kidnapped last week while on an African safari, was scheduled to be turned over Monday to the U.S. ambassador to Uganda amid conflicting reports over whether a ransom was paid for her freedom.
Ugandan police said Endicott was released Sunday in good health and was safely in the hands of Ugandan security forces.
“The victim (and) her safari guide, Jean Paul Mirenge, were released because of the implicit threat of the use of force after the armed captors knew they were being pursued,” Ugandan police spokesman Fred Enanga said.
Enanga declined to provide specific details on how Endicott’s freedom was secured, citing future operational security and tactical reasons.
An official with the Uganda-based safari company, however, told the Associated Press that a ransom was paid.
Endicott, from Southern California, was visiting Queen Elizabeth National Park when they were abducted at gunpoint by four men who used her cellphone to contact authorities and demand a $500,000 ransom, Ugandan police said. They were swept across the border to an unknown camp in neighboring Congo, officials said.
“The operation to arrest the culprits is ongoing with the close coordination of our counterparts from the (Congo), whom we have been working with for the last 5 days,” Enanga said.
Endicott and Mirenge were on an evening safari with a Canadian couple when the gunmen accosted their vehicle. The 78-year-old Canadians were robbed but left behind and were able to notify the camp manager, who retrieved them.
A massive search-and-rescue effort was launched after the ambush and kidnapping.
President Donald Trump was among those hailing the safe release of Endicott and Mirenge, tweeting, “God bless them and their families!”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the American government does not pay ransom for its citizens.
At an event Tuesday for families of U.S. citizens held captive overseas, before news of Endicott’s abduction was out, Pompeo said he understands relatives’ anguish, but paying ransom would lead to more kidnappings.
The State Department released a statement Friday saying, “Whenever a U.S. citizen is taken captive abroad, we work tirelessly – in partnership with local authorities – to secure their release and get them home safely.”
Police said Endicott, who owns a small skin-care shop in Orange County, arrived in Uganda on March 29 and on the next day flew to the park, a sprawling wildlife refuge more than 200 miles west of the capital city of Kampala.
Queen Elizabeth Park is Uganda’s most popular tourist destination and is generally regarded as safe, but the western edge borders the Democratic Republic of Congo, home to several rebel groups.
Last year, two British tourists and their driver were kidnapped in the Virunga National Park across the border in Congo. They were released two days later.
Contributing: Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
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