I was driving back from work that day, and I got off the main road to a side street. That was my first mistake, according to my captors. Coming out of an alley, in seconds, two vehicles ambushed me. “Don’t look at us mierda!”, they yelled. Immediately, I put my head down between my legs and obeyed. Meanwhile, they were going through my purse while yelling at me asking for any jewelry and cash. They asked me to confirm my identity and that’s when I suspected that this wasn’t a holdup. They put a shirt over my head and moved me to another car. We arrived to a house, walked through a hall, into a room, and they sat me down on the cold unfinished concrete floor. No bed, just a thin blanket and a pillow. They blindfolded me and ordered me to sit still. Then, they finally uttered the dreaded words:
“Luisa Castillo*, this is a kidnapping.”
They followed me for two weeks assuming that we were rich because my dad had a management position in a company they believed he owned. They thought he had enough money to pay a fifty- thousand-dollar ransom. They offered me a cigarette which I accepted gratefully. I smoked it slowly trying to process the day, realizing I would probably get raped and die alone surrounded by voices. I became familiar with their voices and in the next seven days, their voices became their faces. For the next few days the routine was the same; talk, smoke, eat, sleep and worst of all, wait.
They informed me that my dad had been ill, but was doing better. I decided to take advantage of the pity I heard in their voices. I wasn’t experiencing any sort of Stockholm syndrome. I very much hated them. I hated the sound of their voices, their smell, the smell of the food they ate. I spent hours in my darkness, listening to their banter, pretending to be interested in their conversations, pretending that we were actually developing some sort of emotional attachment. I believe that they were, I was just pretending. I was just buying time while I could think of ways to escape. I would imagine how I could use their fondness for me. I knew they left me with “Lazy” in the mornings. He had this lazy tone in his voice. It sounded like he was drunk – he sounded young, inexperienced and eager to please. I knew he was skinny and short. I felt his build when I pretended to cry when they told me about my dad. He asked for permission to hug me. I was certain at that point I would get raped. I didn’t, but it was just a matter of time before their sympathy would dissipate and the cabin fever would set in.
On the seventh day, I woke up to a banging noise on a metal door. I panicked and thought that for sure they were killing each other. The worst fear came over me, so I got in fetal position and started to pray and shake uncontrollably. I couldn’t feel or hear any of my caretakers around. Suddenly, the door crashed down violently.
“Luisa Castillo?!” he asked firmly.
“Yes” I answered.
“Policia Nacional. You are safe.”
The days following my rescue remain a fog. My captors were each sentenced to twenty years in prison. I have never been able to forget those seven days I spent kidnapped, contemplating my uncertain future at the hands of a band of criminals. I am one of the lucky ones to have survived a kidnapping in El Salvador where according to published government data, in 2001, there was a kidnapping every three days. Many victims are either found dead or never found. Today, I value my freedom, enjoying each day knowing it could be my last. And those are the kind of lessons learned after spending seven days in the darkness.
*Name has been changed to protect the victim