April 1, 2005

PROOF OF LIFE:

Abductors demand millions, then break off all contact (TAMARA AUDI, April 1, 2005, Detroit Free Press)

"We have your package."

An unfamiliar male voice crackled over the cell phone of Tigers pitcher Ugueth Urbina.

"What package?" Urbina said.

"Oh, yeah, we got your mother," the voice said.

Maura Villarreal had been missing for more than a week, and this was the first contact from the kidnappers. They would not let Urbina talk to her.

He remembered what the police told him: Remain calm. Do not yell or threaten. The conversation lasted two minutes; the captors made no demands. The early September phone call was the start of the slow, nerve-racking waltz that is kidnap negotiation.

Urbina knew from police and private security experts that the process usually began this way. First contact was merely to establish a relationship. Demands would come eventually, and they did. The kidnappers wanted $6 million.

The kidnappers allowed Maura's sons -- Ugueth, Ulmer, Ulises and Juan Manuel -- to ask questions only their mother could answer; they relayed the questions to Maura, then gave her sons the answers. It was their proof of life.

Urbina later said the kidnappers never threatened to kill his mother if he didn't pay. If they had, he said, he would have relented.

"For your mother, you do anything," he said. "You give your life if you have to."

But no one asked him to give his life. No one asked him to do anything but wait and keep talking to the kidnappers. Keep the lines open, but never agree to pay.

Then, in late December, the kidnappers stopped calling.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 1, 2005 8:13 AM
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