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For Kimberly Endicott, a dream trip to Uganda turns into a kidnapping nightmare

For Kimberly Endicott, a dream trip to Uganda turns into a kidnapping nightmare
Image released by Wild Frontiers tour company shows American tourist Kimberly Endicott, center, following her rescue after being kidnapped by unknown gunmen in Uganda's Queen Elizabeth National Park. (Wild Frontiers)

Orange County resident Kimberly Endicott had been dreaming about her big trip to Africa.

Endicott’s friend Pam Lopez, who met the Costa Mesa resident through her work as an aesthetician, said it was Endicott’s lifelong goal to go on safari in Africa to see gorillas. Lopez had been following Endicott’s trip through photos her friend posted on Instagram. One image showed four armed soldiers guarding the group.

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Then, last week, officials said Endicott and a guide were kidnapped. After several tense days, she and the guide were released.

Here is what we know:

How was she kidnapped?

Endicott was on an evening game trip in a car driven by Congolese national Jean-Paul Mirenge Remezo. The group, which included two other tourists, was in the national park Tuesday when four men held them at gunpoint. The other tourists — an elderly couple — escaped, but the gunmen took Endicott and Remezo, said Uganda deputy police spokeswoman Polly Namaye.

The tour vehicle, which belongs to Wild Frontiers Uganda, was left parked, and the kidnappers took the key, Namaye said.

Ugandan police said Wednesday they had dispatched an elite group of police officers, military personnel and wildlife authority officials to assist in the search for Endicott and Remezo. The park’s Ishasha Wilderness Camp area, where the ambush occurred, is a popular tourist destination close to the border with Congo. Joint security teams cut off all exit areas on the border between Uganda and Congo.

American tourist Kim Endicott, right, and field guide Jean-Paul Mirenge a day after they were rescued following a kidnap by unknown gunmen in Uganda's Queen Elizabeth National Park.
American tourist Kim Endicott, right, and field guide Jean-Paul Mirenge a day after they were rescued following a kidnap by unknown gunmen in Uganda's Queen Elizabeth National Park. (Wild Frontiers)

How was she rescued?

Some details remain unclear, especially on the issue of a ransom.

Authorities said Endicott and her guide were found unharmed Sunday morning. CBS News reported that Endicott was found “barefoot, her pants were ripped and she appeared utterly depleted.”

The kidnappers used Endicott’s cellphone to demand a $500,000 ransom, but it was unknown whether any money was paid or if the abductors had been arrested.

Local authorities tried to downplay the incident.

The head of Uganda’s ministry of information and communications technology, Frank Tumwebaze, tweeted Sunday that the country is “very safe border to border.”

“Our parks have been the most secure zones over the years and they remain so,” Tumwebaze wrote, adding that isolated criminal incidents like this one “can happen anywhere in the world.”

It’s unclear when Endicott will return to Orange County. She was shown alive and smiling Monday on local news reports.

Endicott, who has had an aesthetician’s license since 1998, runs a skin care business in Costa Mesa. A review from a customer posted on the business’ website highlighted Endicott’s professional talent and described her as a “wonderful and caring person.”

Was ransom paid?

That is an issue of debate, according to the Associated Press.

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“I have indicated to you that we don’t do ransom,” Ugandan police spokesman Fred Enanga told reporters Monday.

A Uganda-based tour official told the AP, however, that a ransom was paid to secure Endicott’s freedom. “Otherwise she wouldn’t be back,” he said.

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