COSTA MESA, Calif. -- A Costa Mesa woman on a dream vacation in Uganda was one of two kidnapped by a group of armed men, who have demanded a $500,000 ransom for their release.
Kimberly Sue Endicott was on an evening game drive in Queen Elizabeth National Park Tuesday when she and the senior guide who was driving were abducted at gunpoint, according to a Ugandan police news release.
An older couple made it out of the vehicle safely and were rescued after contacting the camp manager to tell them about the harrowing ordeal.
The kidnappers have demanded $500,000 ransom, which police believe was the reason behind the abduction, the released stated.
They used the victim’s phone to make the call.
The armed gang has made frequent demands for the ransom, which police said Thursday will not be paid.
"[The abductors] continue to use cellphones of the victims to call the lodge they were staying asking for $500,000 ransom, which we will not offer," Uganda Deputy Police Spokeswoman Polly Namaye said.
Namaye said the police and other security agencies were working with the American embassy in Kampala, Uganda's capital, to rescue the hostages who police believe are still within the country.
“The U.S. Embassy is aware of reports that an American citizen was kidnapped in the Ishasha area of Queen Elizabeth National Park in southwestern Uganda on April 2, 2019,” a statement on the embassy’s website read. “Government of Uganda security forces are responding to the area.”
A security alert has been issued for U.S. citizens, who are urged to avoid the Ishasha area of Queen Elizabeth of National Park.
All exit areas along the border of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been cut off amid the search for the missing victims, as well as the assailants, according to the release. It’s believed they are all “trapped” within that area.
Amid the intense search efforts, a concerned friend told reporters Thursday it was Endicott’s lifelong dream to go on safari in Africa to see the gorillas.
“I know she was planning this trip for a while, because it’s something that she’s always wanted to do,” Pam Lopez said in a phone interview. “This was always a big trip she wanted to take.”
Lopez hasn’t seen Endicott, whom she knows through Endicott's work as an aesthetician, since the third week of March, but she was aware Endicott was away, and had even been monitoring the trip on Instagram.
“She had been posting pictures of her trip up until – it looks like two days ago, which brings it to Tuesday, which I believe is the day she got kidnapped,” Lopez said.
She noted Endicott was committed to her work and did not travel frequently.
Endicott, in her mid-50s, has a daughter and granddaughter in Southern California, according to Lopez. She wasn’t sure if they knew their loved one was being held hostage.
“Honestly, I don’t know what to think,” Lopez said. “I’m still trying to process it.”
She added that Endicott had been prepared for the trip and even posted a photo to Instagram of the four armed soldiers who were guarding the group.
“I’m sure she felt like she was safe,” Lopez said. “I just can’t even imagine what’s happening right now to her.”
Uganda recorded a spike in domestic kidnap cases last year prompting street protests by activists who said security agencies were not doing enough to protect the citizens
News of this latest kidnapping could affect Uganda's tourism sector, one of its most significant sources of foreign income.
The country earned US$1.37 billion in 2016 from tourism, according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics.