An Orange County woman and her driver, kidnapped last week at gunpoint by a group of men in a Uganda national park, have been rescued from their captors, authorities said Sunday.
Kimberly Sue Endicott, 56, an aesthetician from Costa Mesa, and her driver, Congolese national Jean-Paul Mirenge Remezo, were rescued by security forces, the Ugandan government tweeted. No other details about their rescue were available.
“The duo are in good health & in the safe hands of the joint security team,” the Uganda police said on social media.
Their 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.
Endicott was traveling in a car on an evening game drive with Remezo and two other tourists 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.
Pam Lopez, who met Endicott through her work as an aesthetician, said it was her friend’s lifelong dream 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 who were guarding the group.
Ugandan police said Wednesday that they had dispatched an elite group of police officers, military personnel and wildlife authority officials to assist in the search. 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 to search for Endicott and the tour guide.
President Trump tweeted about Endicott and her driver’s release Sunday afternoon.
"Pleased to report that the American tourist and tour guide that were abducted in Uganda have been released," he said in the tweet. "God bless them and their families.”
Uganda recorded a surge in kidnapping cases last year, prompting street protests by activists who said security agencies weren’t doing enough to protect residents. Officials recently emphasized, however, that it was unusual for a tourist to be kidnapped in Uganda, which has a thriving tourism industry stemming from its wildlife and national parks.
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.”
The northern part of the park remains open to tourists, but the U.S. Embassy has warned Americans in the area to be careful.