American Miner Returns Home After Kidnapping
PEORIA, Ill. (AP) _ Scott Heimdal got a hero’s welcome in his hometown from friends and strangers who helped raise the $60,000 ransom his South American kidnappers demanded for the release of the American gold miner.
″It’s a great feeling″ to be home, said Heimdal, 27, upon arriving in this western Illinois city. Except for a celebration Saturday, Heimdal said his only plans for this week were to ″take it easy.″
Wearing an ″I Love Peoria″ T-shirt, Heimdal stepped off a plane late Monday with his mother, Marge, who had flown to Ecuador June 18 to negotiate his release after the Colombian guerrillas refused to free him even though they had been given the money.
Heimdal had been working as a miner in Ecuador when he was kidnapped April 28 near the Colombian border.
His family raised $60,000 in four days of public appeals. Bars and banks took up collections, children sold lemonade and nursing homes held bake sales.
Heimdal said he intends to return to Ecuador. ″It’s really a wonderful country,″ he said.
Earlier Monday during a stopover in Miami, he identified his captors as members of the communist People’s Liberation Army. He said they treated him with ″great respect″ and wished him ″good luck″ on his release.
TV camera lights, reporters’ questions and a jubilant crowd of about 100 well-wishers deluged the Heimdals as they entered Peoria airport.
″This has been the longest day of our lives,″ said Linda Heimdal, one of his sisters.
Heimdal received a bouquet of roses from Trudy Maloof, wife of the town’s mayor, a family friend. Outside, a blue van was decorated with balloons and a sign saying, ″Welcome home Scott and Marge.″
Those welcoming Heimdal included Ruby Culess, who said she didn’t know the family but had prayed for his release. She carried a sign that read, ″God hears our prayers.″
″We don’t know the family, but it’s wonderful that’s he’s coming home,″ said Jo Frederick.
In Miami, Heimdal recounted his kidnapping, which took place while he was returning to the Ecuadoran capital of Quito.
″We were going down river in a 30-foot Indian dugout canoe when three men attacked us. They killed the driver, wounded the other guy and took me hostage. They were looking to kidnap a North American,″ he said.
Heimdal said that he initially feared for his life but that his captors treated him well. He said he was often moved about and was guarded by up to 25 guerrillas. The group kidnapped him to finance its war with the government of Colombia.
Originally his captors wanted far more money for his release, but Heimdal said he convinced them his parents could not afford it.
″In Latin America there is a misconception that being from North America means being rich,″ he said.
Heimdal said his father, Roy, stayed in Quito to withdraw the remainder of the family’s money from a bank there and to bring his son’s fiancee, Sandra Durango, to the United States.
Mrs. Heimdal said she did not know exactly how much was raised for her son’s release but that any money that might be left would go to charity.
″Everybody’s been so supportive - even strangers, people who don’t know the family,″ Heimdal said. ″I owe a debt I probably will never be able to repay.″