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American Boy Rescued in Columbia

October 11, 2000

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Commandos raided a jungle hideout in northeast Colombia on Wednesday, rescuing a 5-year-old American boy abducted by leftist guerillas nearly four months ago.

They also arrested 11 suspected members or associates of the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, who wanted money for the boy, police said.

Lucas Wasson, who had been kidnapped in June, and his parents were reunited at police headquarters in Bogota. The boy’s father, Lee Wasson, an American who has lived in Colombia for 18 years, made an impassioned plea for peace and urged an end to the barbarity that is tearing apart his adopted nation.

Kidnapping the young and the elderly ``is no way to contribute to peace in Colombia, the Colombia we all love...of marvelous people, of good people,″ Wasson told a news conference at police headquarters moments after being reunited with Lucas. He had to stop speaking several times to choke back tears.

Wearing a baseball cap and mirrored sunglasses, Wasson, who police said is a 52-year-old native of Los Angeles, spoke in excellent Spanish and profusely thanked the police for rescuing his son. On his way out of the news conference, he gave a bear hug to a startled-looking officer.

Lucas, who was held along with his Colombian mother for a month of his captivity, appeared smiling and playful with his parents after being freed in an early-morning raid in Cimitarra, a rural town in northern Santander state.

The rebels had been asking $2 million for the boy, police said. It was unclear whether any of that money had been paid.

News of the abduction was kept from the media during the hunt for the kidnappers. Police said the FBI was kept informed on the rescue operation.

Rebels snatched the boy and his mother on June 26 in southwestern Tolima state, located about 55 miles southwest of the capital, Bogota, police said in a statement.

Monica Negret, 43, was freed July 25 after the family paid an unspecified ransom, she told reporters. The boy remained in rebel hands, tied up in what officials described as ``subhuman conditions.″

Rampant kidnappings by guerrillas and common criminals have given Colombia the world’s highest kidnapping rate, with some 3,000 reported in 1999 and 2,095 through August of this year, according to the private Free Country anti-kidnapping foundation.

Children and foreigners are increasingly targeted, apparently because kidnappers believe they will fetch the highest ransoms.

Police said they had discovered Lucas’ location a week ago through the use of informants and ``high-technology.″

Rescuers touched down at the remote site before dawn, police said, using helicopters equipped with night-vision goggles such as those that the U.S. government has supplied for anti-narcotics operations to Colombia’s police and military. The kidnappers were taken by surprise and offered no resistance.

Wasson did not provide details about himself or his life in Colombia. Efforts to reach him for an interview were not immediately successful. Police described Wasson only as a businessman living in Bogota.

Negret is a niece of one of Colombia’s most famous modern artists, sculptor Cesar Negret.

While Colombians fed up with the kidnappings and guerrilla conflict are fleeing their country in droves, Wasson said his family is staying put. ``We have to save Colombia, and the way to save it is not by running away,″ he said.