An Orange County woman and her driver who were kidnapped at gunpoint by a group of men in a Uganda national park last week have been rescued from their captors, authorities said Sunday.
Kimberly Sue Endicott, 56, an aesthetician from Costa Mesa, and her driver, Congolese national Jean-Paul Mirenge Remezo, were rescued by security services, the Ugandan government tweeted. No other details about their rescue were available.
Their kidnappers had demanded a $500,000 ransom for their release.
Endicott was traveling in a car on an evening game drive with Remezo and two other tourists in the national park on Tuesday when four men held them at gunpoint. The other tourists, an elderly couple, escaped, but the gunmen took Endicott and Remezo, said Uganda deputy police spokeswoman Polly Namaye.
The tour vehicle, which belongs to Wild Frontiers Uganda, was left parked and the kidnappers took the key, Namaye said.
Pam Lopez, who met Endicott through her work as an aesthetician, said it was her friend’s lifelong dream to go on safari in Africa to see gorillas. Lopez had been following Endicott’s trip through photos her friend posted on Instagram. One image she posted showed four armed soldiers who were guarding the group.
Ugandan police said Wednesday that they had dispatched an elite group of police officers, military personnel and wildlife authority officials to assist in the search. The park’s Ishasha Wilderness Camp area, where the ambush occurred, is a popular tourist destination close to the border with Congo. Joint security teams have cut off all exit areas on the border between Uganda and Congo to search for Endicott and the tour guide.
Uganda recorded a surge in kidnapping cases last year, prompting street protests by activists who said security agencies weren’t doing enough to protect residents. However, officials recently stressed that it is unusual for a tourist to be kidnapped in Uganda, which has a thriving tourism industry stemming from its wildlife and national parks.
The northern part of the park remains open to tourists, but the U.S. Embassy has warned Americans in the area to be careful.
Endicott, who has had an aesthetician’s license since 1998, runs a skin care business in Costa Mesa. A review from a customer posted on the business’ website highlights Endicott’s professional talent and also describes her as a “wonderful and caring person.”