Uganda police say kidnapped US woman, driver are freed

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Ugandan police said on Sunday they had rescued an American woman and her driver who had been kidnapped by gunmen in a national park.

The two “are in good health” and “in the safe hands” of security officials, police said in a Twitter update.

Although authorities provided no details about how the rescue operation was carried out, a government spokesman said on Twitter that the kidnappers had taken their victims to Congo, where the two were rescued by the security forces.

The kidnappers “have escaped and operations continue,” Ofwono Opondo said.

Ugandan security teams had been hunting down gunmen who had demanded a $500,000 ransom after kidnapping the American, Kim Endicott, and her Ugandan guide in a national park popular with tourists.

They were ambushed on April 2 in Queen Elizabeth National Park, a protected area near the porous border with Congo, according to Ugandan authorities.

President Donald Trump tweeted that the pair had been released and added, “God bless them and their families!”

It remains unclear if a ransom was paid in the case of Endicott, who is from Costa Mesa, California, where she has a small skin care shop.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said at a Tuesday event for families of U.S. citizens held captive overseas that he understands some people want to do anything to get their loved ones back but paying ransom would just lead to more kidnappings.

In a Friday statement, the State Department said that the safety and security of U.S. citizens abroad is its highest priority.

“Whenever a U.S. citizen is taken captive abroad, we work tirelessly – in partnership with local authorities – to secure their release and get them home safely,” the statement said.

Earlier Friday, an Arizona man who is related to Endicott said he wanted to see the U.S. send in Navy SEALS to locate and rescue her if that’s what it took.

Phoenix resident Rich Endicott, a 62-year-old banker, said he hasn’t spoken with his cousin since a family reunion several years ago.

He said Kim Endicott is in her late 50s and has a daughter and granddaughter.

A friend of Endicott’s said that she is relieved by the news of Endicott’s release.

“My stomach has been in knots,” said Megan Barth, a friend, told the Orange County Register on Sunday. “I’ve been praying for her safety and her release daily.

“I am just so relieved for her and her family,” said Barth, a political commentator and radio personality who was Endicott’s skin care client for 10 years and became a friend. “I hope her captors did not physically harm her. I’m so thankful but still so worried about her, but she is such a strong woman and a beautiful soul she will come through this trauma.”