Chapter OneSEIZED AT DAWN
(May 27-28, 2001)
Bang, bang, bang!
Martin and I woke with a start. It was still dark outside and we
couldn't see a thing. We could only hear the pounding on the wooden
door of the beach cabin where we were celebrating our eighteenth
Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang!
Ugh-they want us to move to the next cabin, I thought. During
dinner the night before, a member of the resort staff had said something
vague about wanting us to change rooms but then had dropped
the subject. I yelled to the person pounding on the door, "It's too
early to move!"
Bang, bang, bang!
Martin yelled this time: "What?"
"It's a guard," came the reply.
I'll bet he's drunk, I thought, thinking that maybe the guard had
been drinking during his overnight shift and was now out raising a
ruckus. Once again, the banging resumed.
"Martin, I think the guard is drunk."
"No, I think something's wrong," he replied. He got up and
started to head for the door.
"Honey, wait-you need to put some pants on first!"
Martin grabbed some knee-length khaki shorts, the kind with
baggy cargo pockets, from beside the bed. Meanwhile, I sat up and
began to gather my clothes as well-a pair of shorts and a gray T-shirt
I had worn the night before.
Just as Martin reached the door, it burst open. Three guys holding
M16s charged into the room. All were short, and one was very
Young-probably in his teens. Another was perhaps twenty-three or
twenty-four, with long black hair. I could tell the third man was
somewhat older. All wore long-sleeved black shirts; two had camouflage
pants. But there were no uniforms, no masks or sunglasses; we
could see their faces.
Immediately, they swept Martin out the door, while the older
man began yelling at me, "Go, go, go!"
"No, no, no!" I replied, clutching the sheet up around me. "I'm
not dressed." I didn't know how much English he knew, but I was
not about to obey him in my present state regardless. Shaking, I began
pulling on my shorts.
"Okay, okay," he answered. I continued dressing.
One man had taken Martin outside, while the third one began to
rifle through our belongings. He found our camera and our cell
"Move, move, move!" came the order again. As I was hurried out
the door, I grabbed our thong chinelas, the common flip-flops that
everyone wears in the Philippines. There wasn't time for me to grab
my purse or anything else.
The young guy who followed me out wanted me to walk faster,
even run. I knew from previous training that in the first few moments
of a kidnapping, you're supposed to comply with orders in
every way you can, until everybody's adrenaline calms down. But
I was just so mad at this kid-I was not going to run!
"Faster, faster!" he said, jabbing me in the back with the barrel of
With a calm voice I replied through clenched teeth, "I'm walking
fast enough." I kept my pace. He jabbed me again, and it did hurt,
but I was determined to exercise my will.
Once I got to the dock, a speedboat maybe thirty-five feet long
with three massive outboard engines-the kind of boat used for drug
running-was waiting. Four or five frightened hostages were already
sitting on the floor of the boat. Martin, still shirtless, let out a sigh of
relief to see me, having been forced to leave me in the room not fully
clothed. "Oh, I'm so glad to see you," he said. "Did anybody hurt
"No, no-I just had to get dressed."
Naturally, he was without his contact lenses, which made his vision
a blur. Fortunately for me, a couple of years before he had encouraged
me to have laser surgery on my eyes in Manila. So I was in good
shape to see distances, even if he was not.
As I sat next to Martin in the boat, we watched as others began to
arrive from the various cabins. Dawn was just starting to paint the
Some of the people started showing up with suitcases! One rather
chic-looking couple came not only with suitcases but a big cooler of
water. My goodness, I thought to myself, I really didn't have to run out
of the room so fast. I could have dragged my feet a little more and gotten
some stuff together.
I stood up and announced, "I'm going to go get Martin a shirt!"
"Sit down," barked one of the captors. "We'll get him a shirt."
I promptly obeyed. But I took notice of the fact that his English
was quite good. At least we can communicate with this one, I thought.
We later learned his name was Solaiman.
"I have our chinelas here," I said to Martin, holding them up. I was
really proud of myself.
"Yeah," he said. We didn't put them on our feet, however; we
just held them. Martin was quiet as he looked around the boat, first
at the men with guns and then at the other hostages. I could tell that
he was trying to size up the situation, trying to figure it all out. This
wasn't easy, however, since nearly everyone else on the boat was
speaking languages we didn't understand. Occasionally, someone
would throw an English word into the conversation and we'd be able
to piece together some meaning. For the most part, however, we simply
had to watch faces and listen to a person's tone of voice to figure
out what he was saying.
I glanced down and the shine of my wedding ring caught my eye.These guys are not going to get my ring! I vowed. I pulled it off, along
with a turquoise ring I was wearing on the other hand, and slipped
them into my shorts pocket when no one was looking.
"Don't you think you should give me your wedding ring?" I asked
"Oh, no, we'll be fine," he answered, ever the optimist.
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, it'll be okay."
* * *
This whole romantic getaway at Dos Palmas Resort had been my
idea, a fact that weighed heavily on my mind as I sat there shivering
in the boat. It came about after Martin was offered a promotion with
New Tribes Mission, the group with whom we had served in mission
aviation for fifteen years. The agency wanted him to become chief
pilot for the entire organization, which would mean moving back to
Arizona and overseeing all flight programs worldwide.
Although he was flattered by the offer, Martin really didn't want
the position. "I just want to be what I've always been: a line pilot," he
told me. Martin was never happier than when he was flying the mission's
little red-and-white Cessna into jungle airstrips, bringing groceries
and medicine to our missionary colleagues, or helping ferry
tribal people out to medical appointments.
Nevertheless, Martin's extraordinary piloting and ability to work
with people kept moving him higher and higher up the organization's
chain of management. In fact, he had turned down this promotion
several times because our three kids were still young and he
didn't want to do all the required traveling.
I kept telling him, "You know, I don't want to move back to the
States any more than you do. But the truth is, you're the right man
for this position. You really are!" I loved the Philippines, but to be
honest, I didn't care where we were or what we were doing, as long as
we were together. Martin would just smile and shake his head at me.
About May 10, Martin left for a two-week trip to the United
States so he could meet with the senior New Tribes leadership team.
While he was away, the mission pilot on the western island of
Palawan was called home due to a death in the family, leaving the island
unmanned. Through e-mail, Martin and I concluded that as
soon as he returned, Martin should go to Palawan to fill in; after all,
the missionaries in the tribes needed flight service. Plus, a translator
was already scheduled to come and do some tribal work on those particular
days. He'd need a pilot.
As I went over Martin's schedule in my mind, I knew he would
be returning to the Philippines tired and jet-lagged-and would immediately
take off for a week's duty on Palawan. I also knew that he
would put in long days on the island and that he'd have to cook for
himself. It didn't seem right. I knew he needed help.
My schedule was packed as well, with visitors coming through-but
then, oddly enough, a couple of things canceled. I can go along
with him and help him out, I thought. Plus, with our wedding anniversary
coming up on the twenty-eighth, if I went along I could at least
be with him on that day. Maybe we can even do something special while
we're there. We've never had time to really enjoy the sights of Palawan.
I called one of our coworkers on the island and asked her,
"Where's a good place for Martin and me to celebrate our anniversary?
He'll just be back from the States."
"Oooh, you should go to Dos Palmas," my friend said. "It's a
wonderful resort on an island all its own; you can only get there by
boat. The food is terrific, and they have two kinds of rooms-garden
cottages on land and cottages on stilts over the water."
"What would you recommend?"
In the background I heard her husband call out, "Over the water!
Those are the nice ones."
"Okay, why don't you go ahead and book one for us for Saturday
night the twenty-sixth?" I said. After that, I arranged for our neighbors,
Bob and Val Petro, to take care of the kids. I began cooking
ahead and freezing some meals for them to eat while we were away.
When the Dos Palmas reservation came through, I looked at the
Price-10,000 pesos for the two of us ($200)-and got cold feet.
Yes, it covered lodging, activities, and all meals, but still . that was
an awful lot of money for our budget. Would Martin be upset with
this extravagance? What would our donors think if they knew?
Maybe I should just call my friend back and ask if there's a nice place in
town instead, I thought.
If only I had
* * *
I looked around and counted: there were seventeen hostages in all
packed onto the floor of the speedboat. Up on the deck, ahead of the
pilot wheel, a group of our captors stood, while a few others stood
back by the motors. Conversation flowed, in both English and one or
more other languages I didn't recognize.
The whole loading process had taken maybe twenty-five minutes-all
the hostages had been taken from the cabins over the water,
none from the garden cabins. At the last minute, somebody said,
"Wait! We need a cook." Quickly, one of the kidnappers jumped out
of the boat and ran up to the top of the hill to abduct the resort's
cook; his name was Sonny. Two security guards were nabbed as well.
Obviously, they were no match for the raiders.
With Sonny and the guards, our hostage count rose to twenty.
The engines powered up, we pulled away from the pier-and
suddenly one mystery was solved. The entire group of fifteen or so
captors began to pump their fists in the air as they chorused in unison,
"Allah akbar! Allah akbar!" ("Allah is the greatest! Allah is the
greatest!") Instantly, we knew who we were dealing with: the dreaded
Abu Sayyaf. They were the only ones with the audacity to do something
I didn't know a lot about the Abu Sayyaf, other than that they
were terrorists. Throughout the southern Philippines, people were
afraid of them. We learned later the meaning of their name, which
set the tone accurately: Abu ("father of") Sayyaf ("the swordsman").
This was the same group that had taken Jeffrey Schilling, an
African-American Muslim who had come to the Philippines to marry
a Muslim girl the year before. Upon hearing about the Abu Sayyaf, he
thought he could go to them, as a fellow Muslim, and explain that
their tactics violated the Koran. His attempts at reeducation backfired
immediately; they said he was a CIA agent, turned him into a hostage,
and demanded one million dollars in ransom. Jeffrey was held for
seven and a half months. We had heard he finally escaped by slipping
out of his handcuffs, made possible by his weight loss.
I turned to Martin with a heaviness starting to press down upon
my shoulders. "We are in big trouble," I said.
"Yeah, we are," he quietly agreed.
I watched as the white cabins of Dos Palmas grew tiny on the receding
horizon, and soon I couldn't see any land at all. We roared out
into the Sulu Sea, heading who knew where? The ride across the
open water grew rough, and we found ourselves bouncing into the
air and slamming down onto the floor again and again. The boat was
seriously overloaded with thirty-five bodies aboard. We bumped
I wasn't crying or shaky yet; all that would come later. I was steeling
myself to stay calm, trying to stay focused as each event unfolded.
I was also working to recall a class I had taken back in the late 1980s,
when New Tribes Mission had sent their contingency planner, Guy
Sier, to prepare the missionary team for hostage situations.
"The first few moments, when everyone is being rounded up," he
had said, "is when the captors are the most trigger-happy. So do what
you're told. But soon after that, begin to make eye contact with your
kidnappers. Start to become a real person to them, not just an item.
Go ahead and let them know what your needs are. That helps establish
your individuality in their minds."
What else had he said? I hadn't really been paying full attention
that day, and neither had Martin. Kidnapping was something that
happened to other people, not to us.
I decided to put into practice the part I remembered. When the
driver throttled back just a bit, I caught Solaiman's eye and announced
with a firm voice, "We need a CR" (the Philippine abbreviation
for "comfort room," or bathroom). After all, we'd all been
pulled out of our beds and hustled straight onto the boat. "Where
can we go?"
"Yeah, yeah," the other hostages agreed, nodding.
"There's no CR here," Solaiman declared.
That wasn't good enough for me. "Well, we need to go to the
bathroom, so we're gonna go," I retorted. I got up and headed for the
stern of the boat.
One of the other hostages volunteered to hold up a malong (the
big Philippine wraparound skirt made of batik material) to give us
women a bit of privacy as we squatted, one after another, right on the
floor. When this process was complete, the engines powered up
again, and we were off.
As we sped through the sea, the spray of salt water came flying
over us from time to time, leaving us drenched and chilled. An older
man began to visibly shake with cold, and someone passed him a
shirt to wear.
A young woman sitting near me was almost hysterical. I began
talking with her and learned that her name was Divine.