SoCal woman freed after being abducted in Uganda, officials say

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- A Costa Mesa woman who was abducted in Uganda along with a driver on Tuesday has been freed, authorities said Sunday.

The Uganda Wildlife Authority, which manages 10 national parks, 12 wildlife reserves and 14 wildlife sanctuaries in the African nation, tweeted the news shortly before 10 a.m.

"The rescue of kidnapped tourist Kimberly Sue and driver guide Jean Paul is complete. Both captives back in safe hands. We thank our security agencies who led the mission. This was a one off and isolated incident. Our national parks have been and remain safe to visit," the UWA tweet said.

The pair "were on an evening game drive" in Queen Elizabeth National Park, according to a statement by police in Uganda. They were abducted between 6 and 7 p.m. Tuesday at gunpoint, police reported.

Ugandan police identified the woman as Kimberly Sue Endecott, 35, although her Facebook page is under the name Endicott. The driver was identified as "senior guide" Jean Paul.

Two other tourists who were on the drive but were not abducted contacted a camp manager, "who rescued them and they are very safe," police said.

Armed gang demanded a ransom

Ugandan police said Thursday that an armed gang had kidnapped Endicott and her guide, and made frequent demands for a ransom of $500,000 using their victims' cell phones. Police had said they would not offer the money.

Ugandan security forces eventually rescued Endicott and the guide, although officials released few details about how the rescue unfolded.

"Both were rescued from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and are safely back in Kanungu district in Uganda," government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said Sunday.

Endicott arrived in the Ugandan capital of Kampala on Monday. Mike Rourke, the manager of Wild Frontiers Uganda, told CNN that Endicott was in the custody of personnel from the US Embassy.

Wild Frontiers is the tour company Endicott was with when she and her tour guide were kidnapped.

Opondo said the kidnappers fled the scene of the rescue when law enforcement officers and soldiers moved in.

A US defense official told CNN that the US military had provided support to Ugandan security forces. The support included intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets and liaison officers, the official said.

Uganda's Minister for Tourism Ephraim Kamuntu said in a televised address Sunday that authorities had been "under pressure" over the abduction. "We can now put the anxiety to rest," he added.

Kamuntu praised communities near the park where Endicott was taken, saying: "The media and the communities surrounding the national park were cooperative and sympathetic. They helped the security operatives in rescuing the abducted tourist and driver."

'A quiet and peaceful' handover

A ransom was paid to free Endicott and Mirenge, a source with knowledge of the exchange told CNN on Sunday. The handover was "quiet and peaceful," the source said.

Wild Frontiers said it is "extremely relieved" to confirm the release of the two unharmed and thanked Ugandan and US authorities for their help, which involved a "negotiated handover, conducted between the Ugandan and US authorities."

"We also are working with the investigating authorities to ascertain precisely what happened and how this can be prevented in the future," the company said.

Wild Frontiers said the identities of the alleged kidnappers have not been revealed.

President Trump tweeted Sunday afternoon that he was "pleased to report" the two had been released.

"God bless them and their families," Trump said on Twitter.

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