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Father of escaped kidnapped teen: My son is a 'hero'

AP

Kevin Lunsman, a kidnapped American teenager, talks to Filipino soldiers inside the Philippine military compound in the southern Philippines following his escape from suspected al-Qaida-linked militants over the weekend.

The father of an American teenager who escaped his kidnappers in the southern Philippine jungle over the weekend called his son a "hero" on Sunday.

"I'm so proud of my son, he's a hero, he wandered two days through the jungle," Heiko Lunsmann told ABC affiliate WSET in Lynchburg, Va., on Sunday.


Kevin Lunsmann, 14, escaped from suspected al-Qaida-linked militants and wandered without shoes for two days in the jungle before villagers found him, ending his five-month captivity, officials said Sunday.

"That was a tough time, it was tough five months," Heiko Lunsmann said in the first interview since his 14-year-old Kevin was taken. "I only know he is a hero and I'm so happy he escaped."

Initial reports indicated that Kevin Lunsmann had been released, but the teen told Philippine officials and his family that he evaded his four armed captors by telling them that he would take a bath in a stream and then dashing for freedom on Friday.

He followed a river down a mountain until villagers found him late the next day, local officials said according to The Associated Press.  Exhausted, hungry and still stunned, the boy initially fled from the villagers, local officials told The Associated Press.

"He was in fear so there was a bit of a chase before the villagers convinced him that they were friends," Senior Supt. Edwin de Ocampo said told The Associated Press. He said the boy was fine, but was exhausted and had bruises on his arms and feet.

City Mayor Celso Lobregat said he has been flown to Manila and turned over to U.S. officials there. U.S. Ambassador Harry Thomas said the boy would be reunited with his family soon.

Lobregat said the boy has talked by phone with his Filipino-American mother, Gerfa Yeatts Lunsmann, who was in the United States. He, his mother and a Filipino cousin were vacationing with relatives on an island near Zamboanga City when they were snatched July 12 and taken by boat to nearby Basilan.

The captors then called the family in Campbell County, Virginia, to demand a ransom, officials said.

The mother was freed two months ago after she was dropped off by boat at a wharf on Basilan. The boy's Filipino cousin escaped from their captors last month when Filipino army forces managed to get near an Abu Sayyaf camp in the mountains of Basilan, about 550 miles south of Manila.

Army Col. Ricardo Visaya said the kidnappers were believed led by Abu Sayyaf militant Puruji Indama, who is notorious for ransom kidnappings and beheadings. Troops were hunting down the militants and clashed with one group in Akbar town, near Lamitan, which may have distracted the kidnappers and gave Lunsmann a chance to flee, he said.

When Visaya asked the boy if he was freed, which would indicate that ransom was paid, or escaped, Lunsmann replied that he fled from his captors.

"No, I really did it myself," he quoted Lunsmann as telling him. Visaya said he later handed the boy to American troops based in Basilan.

Msnbc.com staff and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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