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tv   Dateline NBC  NBC  May 28, 2017 7:00pm-8:00pm EDT

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i just can't imagine. to be held in captivity. >> dad, just send the money. that's all they want. >> they have an american kid. a 14-year-old kid in the middle of the jungle. they're thinking they hit the jackpot. >> they were vacationers turned prisoners. a mother and son kidnapped by terrorists. >> we need 10 million u.s. dollars for the release of your family. >> $10 million from me? are you losing your mind? >> tonight, you're inside this harrowing hostage drama. >> this is a big operation. this is not a rag-tag group of people. >> anything can happen. there are no guarantees. >> can a father turned negotiator help bring them home? >> we prepared him for the worst. >> i'm getting worried.
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i am getting so worried. >> a lot of people were praying for them. a lot of people were. >> i'm lester holt, and this is "dateline." here's keith morrison with "heart of darkness." >> reporter: they lay in wait, unseen under a thick green canopy, armed to the teeth. immersed in their defiant extremist belief, hunting, stalking, deadly, in this particular heart of darkness. it was the summer of 2011, a jungle-clad island in the southern tip of the philippines where they prepared the place. and the news of the terrible deed commilted -- committed here, flashed halfway around the world and came crashing down, out of nowhere, on a modest working class family
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>> i got a phone call from my mother. the first thing she said was gerfa and kevin were kidnapped in the philippines. >> reporter: kidnapped? sherry hutter tried to wrap her head around the inconceivable. gerfa was her aunt. kevin, gerfa's 14-year-old son. they were due home from a philippine vacation, instead they were in the clutches of something horrific. >> i felt like i was in a dream like it wasn't real. >> and i was just thinking, "what?" >> reporter: gerfa's husband heiko lunsmann had stayed behind in lynchburg, and was at work when he heard. >> you must have been terrified. >> yes. it was impossible to think about it. but pictures don't lie. >> reporter: they didn't. there they were, on philippine television. incomprehensible images, gerfa's and kevin's passports, their half-packed suitcases. the stricken relatives they'd been visiting on tictabon, a small island at the tip of southern philippines. gerfa, kevin and one of gerfa's young cousins, said the news reports, kidnapped by boat in the dead of night.
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>> i was thinking, no, that doesn't happen to us! >> well, nobody thinks it's gonna happen to us, right? >> yeah, but my wife's heart is in the philippines. that's her family. >> gerfa was born in the philippines. had always felt safe there. her older sister married a u.s. navy sailor and moved to america in 1985. and brought then 16-year-old gerfa with her, hoping to give her a chance at a better life. >> she was so excited about the opportunity. i remember she worked a lil' caesar's pizza and that was the greatest thing to get a job. >> reporter: she had a son, josh, went back to community college to improve herself. and there she met a german immigrant named heiko. and from then on, that it was. they were a family. she became a lab technician. heiko, a maintainance man. they bought a house in a leafy neighborhood of lynchburg and
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and the immigrants' son became an all-american kid he was 14 that summer of 2011. smart, studious, and looking forward to the start of high school in the fall. >> he's this normal american kid who likes pizza and hotdogs and burgers, hang out with his friends, play video games, ride on his skateboard. >> reporter: they lived frugally, saved their money. which is how eventually heiko could afford his used mercedes car, and gerfa and kevin, that trip to the philippines. life was good. but now, it was very bad indeed. much >> when i first heard they were kidnapped, the first thing that came to my mind was, "oh my gosh, it's abu sayyaf." >> reporter: abu sayyaf, a small but extremely violent militant group. over the years it claimed affiliation first with al quaeda, then isis, as it fought to establish an independent islamic state in the southern ip
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its breakthrough ad and butter fight against the government? kidnap-for-ransom. abu sayyaf had taken american hostages before, some were released eventually. but some, were beheaded. heiko was frantic, had no idea what to do, where to turn. and then, that very day, he got -- the cavalry came riding in. >> my boss from work called, come on over to work, the fbi is here for you. >> what was it like to hear the fbi was paying attention to this? >> that it's really real now, this is the real thing. >> we never know how families are gonna react, obviously. but almost in every case, they're in a state of crisis. >> reporter: mark thundercloud was the leader of a special fbi hostage negotiating unit, formed precisely for an emergency like this. more than a dozen agents descended on the lunsmann house, covered the windows, set up a surveillance system in heiko's kitchen, and got ready for what they knew was coming, a demand
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for ransom. >> negotiating really with someone who is selling his family. >> the fbi told me that my wife and son are merchandise for them. >> that's kinda hard to hear. >> yes. >> we try to be very transparent with the families in these cases. we try to prepare them as best as we can. >> did you prepare heiko for the possibility they would be executed? >> yeah, we prepared him for the worst. >> reporter: now there was nothing else to do, except wait. and then the phone rang. >> hello. >> hello. >> yes? >> this is long distance from philippines. is this mr. hilko lunsmann? >> a terrorist on the line. when we come back, the life-and-death negotiations begin. >> we need 10 million u.s. dollars for the release of your family. >> $10 million, from me? are you losing your mind? >> dad, we need you to send the
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>> is this mr. heiko lunsmann? >> yes, that's me. >> okay, we would like to inform you that your family here with us, under our custody. >> reporter: two days after his wife and child were kidnapped by abu sigh yaf in the philippines, he got his first ransom call, a man who called himself mr. so. >> just give me a name. >> reporter: mr. so was calm, business-like, like he'd done it a hundred times before. in fact, he was the voice for a violent separatist voice known for executing prisoners, beheading, usually. >> we would like to tell you that, uh, we need 10 million u.s. dollars for the release of
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can you hear me? >> and i just was thinking, are you losing your mind? who you think you got? just couldn't believe it. $10 million. from me. >> why would they think he had 10 million? perhaps they watched the internet. in lynchburg, the kidnapping was big news, with tv crews across the street and captured him driving his used mercedes coupe. >> there you are in your fancy car. you must be worth millions. >> that was a wrong, wrong impression. >> i'm not a rich person, but i will give whatever i can get together. >> okay, we need $10 million u.s. for the release of your family. okay? >> reporter: heiko was lucky in this, when mr. so made his demands, some of the most experienced fbi hostage negotiators in the country were right there, listening in.
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ready to point out the right way for heiko to respond. >> these are for general visual prompts that we want heiko to think about. we have all the questions related to kevin and gerfa and -- that we think are important for heiko to consider. and what we're doing then, we're gonna write notes down and pass them to heiko. he would read it and hopefully introduce it to the conversation. >> where's my wife? can i talk to her? is she's okay? where's my son? >> yeah, no, uh, your son. >> is she with you? can i talk to them? i wanna know if they're okay. >> reporter: mr. so didn't say. meanwhile fbi agents in the philippines were working sources on the ground. word was that gerfa and kevin had been taken to one of abu sayyaf's strongholds -- basilan, a large island about four hours by boat from where they'd been kidnapped. to a base camp deep in what was nearly impenetrable jungle. >> we travelled to basilan to talk with politicians therho
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this group. >> reporter: heiko had the fbi to help, but government money? no. >> they don't pay ransom. the government doesn't pay ransom. any decisions regarding ransoms are really made by the family. >> it was to me, notice choice. -- no choice. i want to make sure they're safe. >> reporter: the week after the kidnapping heiko wired a ransom payment. close to five thousand dollars to a bank account in the philippines. >> i was thinking, pay them money and it's over. but they started wanting more and more and more. >> reporter: more weeks went by. mr. so reduced his demands from $10 million, to $2 million, then $1 million. still impossible. so the kidnappers turned up the heat. they put kevin on the line. >> dad! >> yeah. how are you doing over there?
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>> are you there? we need you to send the money. >> i know that, and i'm ready, but all that i have over here i will send, and they know it. >> dad! just send the money. that's all they want. >> reporter: heiko maxed out his credit cards. borrowed money from whomever he could. but it never seemed to be enough. >> as the incident grows from weeks into months, we end up with so many boards that we have to work our way down this hallway. >> reporter: daniel girsch was one of the hostage negotiators assigned to guide heiko. >> and it gets to the point where we don't think that we're making progress. heiko feels like we're not making progress. >> i think you just hope. that's all what you have, hope. >> reporter: but hope was hard to hang on to. the kidnappers kept threatening beheadings. even worse, they put gerfa on the phone, and beat her while she talked to heiko. >> sweetheart, what you doing
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over there? >> i know, honey. i'm just so -- >> just tell them i don't have a million. please do that. >> i want this to stop. i know, i told them that you don't have anything but they just, like, asking. >> how are you doing gerfa? >> stop that! [ crying ] >> i am getting worried, i'm getting so worried. >> reporter: a few seconds later the line went dead. >> oh my god! [ bleep ], i'm smoking, i got have a [ bleep ] cigarette, or i'm gonna [ bleep ] -- >> heiko, heiko -- you need to be ready. >> reporter: the frustration must be pretty intense. >> frustration was immense. >> if he's not calm, then our hostage takers aren't going to be calm. so often times, i would have to tell heiko to be quiet, let the hostage-taker speak, and then we would have a chance to respond. >> reporter: and then what? how long before they tired of
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great loves of his life? >> i've worked these cases that will last years instead of months. >> and i was thinking, no, i'm not making it for years, there's no way. >> reporter: heiko didn't have to wait that long, three months after gerfa and kevin were taken, there was a very different phone call. and for heiko, it was terrifying. >> coming up -- >> she called me really, really sad and crying. >> i felt her dark place, being a mother myself. and it was awful. >> when "dateline" continues. [brad] new in town? [man] witness protection program... [brad] i guess you need relocation consultation. with apartments-dot-com, we can find you something nondescript yet extraordinarily comfortable... ...with a twenty-four hour doorman... ...and a video security system! [man] well, if my name isn't gary "the rat" paticoff... [mumbling] oh no! [agent] again? [brad] don't leave this! take this! [man] thank you very much. [brad] that'll be useful everywhere!
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>> reporter: it had been three months since an islamic paramilitary group had kidnapped heiko lunsmann's wife and son. he'd already sent the kidnappers more than twenty thousand dollars. a fortune for him. and then the phone rang again. and it wasn't mr. so. instead, well. even veteran fbi agent dan girsch was astonished. >> we received the tremendous news that gerfa was released. obviously, heiko's very excited -- i could see and hear just joy. joy. >> reporter: heiko could scarcely believe it. as the news flashed across the philippines. and to lynchburg, virginia. his wife gerfa was alive. and free. and safe! so, inexpressible joy. and then gerfa called him. and heiko realized the
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nightmare. was just beginning. >> she called me, really, really sad and crying. so my first question to her was "where's kevin?" >> reporter: he could hear the terror in her voice. abu sayyaf still had kevin and her cousin. they could kill them any time they wanted. >> and i felt her dark place, just being a mother myself. and it was awful. >> reporter: and before long her terror deepened. when she learned her cousin got out, too. which meant that there in that awful place, her 14-year-old son no one left to protect him was all alone. >> i remember seeing that picture of her that was in the news. and she looked so sad. she looked so sad and helpless. >> reporter: this is gerfa. and here, even five years later the memory is brutal. we brought her back here to the philippines and asked her to
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the story that began at 2:00 in the morning, at the end of a happy, family reunion, on a beach, just about like this one. >> it does take you back. you know, you can hear the water, the waves. you can feel the wind. you see the evening sky. the stars. >> it was a beautiful thing. >> oh, it was a beautiful morning. >> suddenly i saw from the left side two men running really fast, like, on the sand. with some kind of rifle. my first impression, it was some kind of robbery. i scream for help. i was terrified. i never screamed that loud in my life. >> reporter: gerfa rushed back to her hut and grabbed kevin. together they ran toward the beach. but they didn't get far. in an instant they were surrounded by several armed men in military fatigues. >> kevin was looking at me. he was in front of me.
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violence right there -- they were rough right away. it's like, why did they -- why did they kick my son? >> reporter: a motor boat suddenly appeared. the men pushed kevin and gerfa into it. shocked and frightened, gerfa looked up to see her cousin, not quite 22 years old and the father of a newborn, holding on to the boat, trying to prevent it from leaving. >> he didn't care about his safety, he was begging him and begging him to let him in. he said, this is my family, i wannabe with them. my fate will be the same. >> reporter: so they took her cousin too. gerfa watched the shore disappear into the darkness. in a matter of a moment, you went from a feeling of incredible peace to the worst nightmare you could ever imagine. >> chaos.
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complete chaos. and you find yourself thinking, stay calm. how do you do that? >> reporter: it was early morning, right after sunrise, when they arrived at an island. they were made to sit hidden in the mangroves. "take me," gerfa pleaded with the kidnappers, "let the boys go." but in response, one of the men raised his machete. >> he looked at me and he said, did you want me to cut your son's -- your infidel son's head? >> behead him? >> behead him. i knew right then it was religious. >> yeah, the -- these guys are fanatics -- >> i knew it was more serious. i've never seen so much hate. >> reporter: gerfa had heard about abu sayyaf and their kidnappings. but she never thought for a moment that she could be a target. >> so we sat there just shaking, and i couldn't stop it. the fear of death is so strong. we were surrounded by these armed men. there was no rescue, there was no sign of rescue. we were on our own. >> reporter: night came. they were prodded at gunpo
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their feet and into the jungle. and its own particular darkness. >> i constantly followed kevin. the minute he's like three feet away from me he is gone. it's like he's gone in the dark. >> reporter: and then a light, just a flash really, a car in the distance. the kidnappers seemed terrified by it and gerfa was gripped by a fear more terrible than any in her life. >> immediately someone stood really close to kevin. and i saw that silver rifle, the tip of it just went close to his forehead. and at that point i just realized, i was like, oh, my gosh, i might lose my son that night. >> coming up -- >> were you ready to die? >> i was ready. i said, lord, thank you for the beautiful family you gave me. an
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philippine jungle, surrounded by men with hate in their eyes, gerfa lunsmann looked, terrified, at her 14-year-old son. an approaching car had put the kidnappers on alert. and now one of them held an automatic rifle to kevin's head. >> i just said, don't move, son, while my entire body was frozen. >> reporter: and then the car passed. and they kept walking. and several hours later they arrived at abu sayyaf's base camp. >> and this is where they were brought -- to a cage in the jungle. not this cage, we actually built this one, but to the exact specifications given to us by gerfa. five feet by five feet, some old broken boards for a floor, jungle sticks lashed together with bark. no roof, no protection from the elements. but a cage as secure as any cage in any prison.
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tents on either side of the cage. a sniper on a hill above, watching them. and right behind the cage -- a seemingly bottomless cliff, planted with land mines, said their captors. >> i know you had been walking for, like, 36 hours or something. how did you feel? >> well, exhausted, physically, spiritually, mentally -- >> and then they present you with this. >> and you see this piece of crap. and this guy told us, "get in." and you want to resist. you want to fight it. 'cause, you know, you're not an animal. >> reporter: this is gerfa's cousin, the young man who forced the kidnappers to take him so he could protect her and kevin. >> he takes the shorter place here. i will sleep here. and kevin will take the longest
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area of the cage, because he is taller. we cannot move. we take one spot and that's it. >> reporter: they sat in silence, forbidden to speak. they were, bit by bit, starved. fed a little rice and dried fish -- a single plate per day to share. then one night, about a week after they'd been taken hostage, the group's leader told gerfa about the price abu sayyaf had put on her head. that 10 million they demanded from heiko. >> i felt my whole body just collapse. i knew if i cannot convince him that i don't have that money, i will never see my family again. so i looked up toward heaven. and there was this one star just blinking. i pointed at the star, this one star up in the sky. and i told them, if they can get
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that star, my husband can give them $10 million. >> reporter: gerfa knew heiko would have sent all the money they had, even as the kidnappers squeezed him by putting his terrified son on the phone. >> dad! just send the money. that's all they want. >> reporter: heiko didn't realize that the kidnappers were beating kevin as he spoke. gerfa was forced to watch. helpless, full of rage. >> he get hurt from head to toe. even though he fell on the ground, they continued to -- >> they kept kicking him. >> -- abuse him. but all he was doing was just listening to his dad. because that was the safety zone. >> reporter: gerfa's cousin, threw himself on kevin, tried to shield him. >> translator: what i want is to hug kevin, protect him, and i
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i cannot fight back. >> reporter: when it was over, kevin and gerfa were forced back into the cage, battered and horrified. and there was her cousin, lying in the corner, crying. >> we were just, like, rubbing his back, trying to console him. because it was just the three of us. no one care about our feelings. how hurt we are. the world was not there for us. no one was there. >> reporter: and if no one was coming to rescue them. well, then they had no choice. they had to try to escape. come what may -- down that cliff. and then, two months into their captivity, the moment came. gunfire pierced the silence. the kidnappers grabbed their weapons and ran toward the front of the camp. and the captives, impulse in unison, squeezed through the cage and slid off the edge of the cliff. >> there was no time to think
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what happened, no, we gotta go now. >> down a slope like that. >> yeah. we're trying to get -- >> head first. >> yes. head first, holding onto the roots and the bushes. >> reporter: but then they heard a shout. one of their kidnappers had seen them. >> and he was screaming, they're escaping, they're escaping, they're getting away. >> and by the time i look again, they're all line up. it's like, really, i cannot believe they caught us. we march back into that cage. >> that tiny little cage. which must have felt like a tomb to you. >> we know we're gonna die in that cage. >> reporter: but their captors were on edge. for a reason. this is nbc news footage of military exercises on the coast of basilan that september of 2011, about two months into gerfa's ordeal. the philippine military, supported by american advisors, was launching an offensive against abu sayyaf. which, in turn, became so nervous they decided to move kevin, gerfa and her cousin --
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out of that cage and into a windowless room in a farm house about a day's hike away. and then, one of them pulled gerfa from their cell. they were taking her away. >> and at that point, i was like, oh my god, they're going to separate me from my son. >> reporter: they told her she would be back the next day. but she was convinced her time was up. that she was about to be executed. >> were you ready to die? >> i was ready. i said, lord, thank you for the beautiful family you gave me. and said, if you want me to come home, i'm ready. but i want you to let these two boys, guide them out of that jungle. it's in your hand now. >> reporter: they put gerfa on a boat. put a bag over her body. but to her complete surprise, they didn't kill her. instead they dropped her off on a footbridge near a village and told her they'd be in touch soon.
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>> they started to disappear in the dark ocean. and i knew right then that my connection to kevin is gone. it was worse than being in prison. there was no freedom for me. >> reporter: she got in touch with the philippine military. was evacuated to manila, the philippines' capital. back in lynchburg, lead fbi negotiator mark thundercloud thought he knew why the kidnappers released gerfa. >> their intent was to let her go to help raise more money. now she's out. and now she's gotta talk to these people. >> right. >> someone needs to be there with her. >> reporter: heiko decided he should stay in lynchburg, try to find the money, and mark thundercloud moved his operations from the family's kitchen to a hotel room in manila. and there, as one month passed, then another, they tried to help gerfa deal with mr. so.
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>> december 6 was the last day that we talked with mr. so. basically he was saying, look, what you're offering is not enough. this might be the last communication that we ever have. we still expected calls. but on the 7th, nothing. on the 8th, nothing. on the 9th, nothing. >> reporter: oh, they would hear what happened to kevin. soon enough. a shock-in-waiting. >> coming up -- >> when i opened the door, everybody was looking at me so quiet. i was like, oh, something happened. something happened to kevin. >> when "dateline" continues. go. -where? -san francisco. -when? -friday. we gotta go. [ tires screech ] any airline. any hotel. any time. go where you want, when you want with no blackout dates. [ muffled music coming from club. "blue monday" by new order. cheers. ] [ music and cheers get louder ] the travel rewards credit card from bank of america.
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just stare at me. it was like, oh something happened, something happened to kevin. >> reporter: an fbi agent was holding a phone. on the line, the mayor of a small town on basilan island. it's for you, the agent told gerfa. >> the mayor said, mrs. lunsmann? i was like, yeah? kevin is out! and i was like, what, what! it's like chaos after that. i was like, what happened? and then i heard kevin, hi, mom. a beautiful sound. it sound so good. >> reporter: kevin was free! but how? >> it's the craziest turn of my life probably. i didn't think it was ever gonna pp
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kevin lunsmann. now 20-years old. and this is his amazing story. which began a moment before the kidnappers took his mom away. when she leaned forward and whispered in his ear. >> i remember her words exactly. she said, you have to get home to your father. you have to get back home. and that made me realize that she might be thinking that she may not make it tonight. >> that she might be taken away to be killed? >> yes, i just wanted to cry. i didn't -- i didn't wanna lose her. >> reporter: soon after that, they took his cousin away too. >> and after he left, i was alone. there was nothing more. it was just me. >> reporter: 14 years old. all alone in that dark room in the jungle. when he finally slept, he had a dream.
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and i turned to my side and my mother's there and my cousin's there, and then all of a sudden a barrage of bullets comes through the walls. all these bullets are flying through and yet we're not getting hit. all of a sudden i turn around and my mother's gone, and my cousin's gone. and the barrage of bullets has stopped, everything has ceased. and i just realized i'm alone again. even in my dream, i was alone. >> reporter: he woke up, remembered his mother's words -- get home to your dad. and he made a choice. >> i was going to get home. one way or another. >> how the heck would you do that? >> i was still unclear of that myself. i just had to wait. maybe -- maybe one day they'd get careless. >> you'd escape? >> yes. >> reporter: bit by bit he prepared. >> physically i tried to maintain. i tried to get as much as food as i could when they'd give it to me. sometimes do sit-u,
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because if i ever did have to run, i'd have to be somewhat in shape. >> reporter: and then he had an idea. the kidnappers allowed him to wash his clothes and hang them to dry on a line outside the house. maybe, if they were distracted somehow he could make a run for it, get to the ocean, catch a boat to the mainland. wishful thinking of course, he was guarded around the clock. but then, one morning, almost six months after he was taken hostage. >> i woke up at the morning and i could hear no sounds whatsoever. i looked at the trails and i didn't see anyone walking around. and it was sort of like a lightbulb moment. this might be it. >> reporter: he washed his clothes. hung them up. eyes darting. two little voices working in his mind. >> one that was saying, you should run. the other saying, you should stay. one was terrified, and the other knew what was waiting for me out there, freedom. i proceeded to walk to the edge of the house.
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around the side. i could see no one, nothing, no movement. and after that i just bolted. >> reporter: kevin knew, as many 14-year olds do, that water obliterates footprints, might hide his route of escape. and so, with his heart pounding and his ears straining for the sounds of pursuers, he picked his way down the creek bed and into the jungle. and then he heard it. the bird call. >> wasn't just a bird. this was more of like an alert call that the terrorists used to communicate with another. so i knew that the signal had been put out that i had escaped. >> what'd that do to you? >> as soon as i heard it, i knew i had to get out as fast as i could. i had to run. >> i guess it's one of those moments in life where you either grow up and deal with it or you decide to give up and stay a little boy. >> those were my two choices. are you gonna panic or are you gonna man up and try and get out of here? and i chose option two. >> reporter: and so he ran all
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his feet raw, his clothes ripped by unseen hazards, bloodied now by a thousand thorns that tore into his flesh. >> it was marsh, brush, thick thorns, anything, i would get through it. at any cost. even if it cost me my life, at least i tried. >> reporter: toward morning, exhausted, he searched for a hiding place so inhospitable his pursuers wouldn't think to look. he fell asleep in a mosquito-infested swamp. and when the sun rose and he opened his eyes -- >> i remember waking up and not smelling the aroma of the coffee that they had brewed or maybe the type of food, like fried rice. i didn't smell any of that. i smelled fresh air. i smelled -- i smelled freedom. >> reporter: at least for the moment. but where was he? >> at a point i couldn't keep going through brush because i didn't know my exact location. i had to keep walking, possibly get on a road. maybeky find a different way.
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people might see you out here. >> yes. people might see me, yes. >> well, on this island, you don't know who's with them and who's not, right? >> right. >> reporter: but it was a risk he had to take and soon regretted. walking down the road, he heard a voice behind him. a man was approaching. and he had a rifle. >> coming up -- >> i had escaped and walked through all of that terrain, and it was for nothing. >> he could take you away. take you back to those guys. >> i froze. and i just thought, this is it. fibromyalgia is thought to be the result of overactive nerves. lyrica is believed to calm these nerves. woman: for some, lyrica can significantly relieve fibromyalgia pain and improve function, so i feel better. lyrica may cause serious allergic reactions
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>> reporter: for two days and one long night, kevin lunsmann could practically feel his captor's breath on his neck, their guns in his back, as he ran, and somehow eluded them. >> all my clothes were covered in mud, black, blood, everything. my hair was ruffled. i smelt terrible. i probably had over a hundred or more listerations on my body. blood all over mar
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so i didn't look too good. >> reporter: and then he took that one necessary risk, emerged to a public road, and there it was, the end. clearly a local, on this abu sayyaf-infested island, and he had a very big gun. >> i thought that it was all over. i had escaped and walked through all of that terrain, and it was for nothing. they had found me, and they were going to bring me back. >> reporter: then the man spoke, and the words startled kevin. he was speaking english. >> and he was asking, do you need help? were you kidnapped? and i froze at that question and i just thought, this is it, should i just tell him? >> he could go either way still. he could take you away, take you back to those guys. >> right, and i knew those risks. but at this point, i felt like i was going to put my trust in him. >> so how'd he react? >> he proceeded to say, i'm gonna get you out of here. i'm gonna get you home.
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i'm here to help. >> my name's kenny? >> my name's kenny, like kenny rogers. that's exactly what he said. and it gave me a laugh. it was one of the first laughs i had in a long time. >> reporter: kenny got in touch with the mayor of a nearby village. the mayor called the philippine army, and the army arrived in humvees. >> it seemed like hundreds of them. and i was just like, "this is all for me." i just couldn't believe it. i realized i'm really gonna see my family again. i'm gonna see my friends. i am gonna have my life back. >> reporter: but would he have his mom? for months, kevin had been grieving, afraid she'd been executed by the militants. but then the mayor gave him the phone, and kevin heard a familiar voice. >> hey, mom, is that really you? i had no clue for months what happened to you. once i heard her voice, i knew that was her. and i think at that point i felt alive again. there was color in my life again. >> reporter: after that 14-year-old's amazing escape,
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the u.s. military put him on a plane to manila, where his mother was waiting on the tarmac. >> the door was too slow to open. i was ready to climb that plane and open that door. and he stood there on the plane, right there, looking around. it's like, i'm right here, you know, it's like, i'm right here. but he just like looking. and i was like, he don't recognize me. okay, it must be the love, you gotta stop crying, right? >> and i see this woman. and i see tears. and as i got closer and closer, i realize i knew who that was. we just ran up to each other, and we just hugged each other. and it was just incredible. >> reporter: back in lynchburg, kevin's dad, heiko, was delivering christmas turkeys to a hospital when somebody found him and gave him the news. >> i was so happy. your mind gets clear again. so you don't have to worried no more.
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and i will have my family back. and that just -- it's a great feeling. it's a great feeling. >> reporter: on december 14th, 2011, six months after they were taken hostage, gerfa and kevin finally came home, returned to lynchburg to heiko and to gerfa's niece, sherry. >> it was awesome. the first thing we did was put up -- >> christmas decorations. >> christmas decorations. kevin and gerfa were so happy. i didn't know what to expect because of what they'd been through. but they were just so grateful to be back with their family. >> reporter: in 2012 the philippine army caught three of gerfa's and kevin's kidnappers. gerfa returned to the philippines to testify at their trial and help send her captors to prison. kevin was honored for his bravery by the virginia general assembly and met president obama. he's in college now and thinking about joining the fbi. >> he was there, you know, as a
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and now he came out as a man. the whole maturity is just unbelievable. >> you must be pretty proud of that boy. >> very proud. >> reporter: the five years that separate their ordeal from this evening on the beach with us have erased not a moment of the memory, the terror they shared, the pain, depravation, sorrow, and, finally, joy. and we look on and see a bond only they can fully understand. >> did you ever think you'd actually be in this situation where you've got your arm around your mother and the two of you are talking about this in the past tense with smiles on your faces? >> never. >> not at that point, no. we didn't think it was gonna be even possible. but here we are. >> and we're very glad to see you safe. >> thank you. >> wonderful, wonderful. >> that's all for now. i'm lester holt.
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thanks for joining us. - welcome to universal studios hollywood, where tonight, we're bringing you a very special edition of "american ninja warrior." hello, everyone, and thanks for being with us. i'm matt iseman. - and i'm akbar gbajabiamila. - and this is the start of red nose night on nbc. an amazing night of entertainment, all in support of red nose day charity. - and we're kicking this thing off ninja style with our first ever celebrity edition of "american ninja warrior." [cheers and applause] - but first, to tell us more about what red nose day is all about, let's go over to the one and only jennifer garner. [cheers and applause] - thanks, guys. i'm so excited to be part of the show. we are here to help kids in america and across the world who urgently need love and support and things to make their lives better. red nose day is a charity helping kids living in poverty, and half of its money is spent right here in the u.s.,

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