LYNCHBURG (WSLS 10) - This summer will mark six years since Islamic terrorists kidnapped a mother and son from Campbell County.
Gerfa and Kevin Lunsmann were on vacation in the Philippines when a group linked to Al Qaeda believed them to be wealthy Americans and held them for ransom.
Dateline NBC will air their remarkable tale of survival on WSLS 10 Friday night at 10 p.m. WSLS 10 worked in collaboration with Dateline NBC to share the Lunsmanns' story.
Gerfa Lunsmann saved up money for a Summer 2011 trip to the Philippines. She wanted to immerse her son Kevin, then 14, in her native culture by spending two weeks on a peninsula with family.
"I was preparing to see the sunrise one more time before my long flight home when they came," said Gerfa Lunsmann.
"It was really tranquil and then all of a sudden I hear the scream. I was trying to figure out whose scream it was and then I realize it was my mother's because I never heard her scream like that before," said Kevin. "I could hear my mom talking to me saying 'Get to the mangrove, get to the mangrove. We've got to run,' but I wasn't sure what we were running from at this point."
Gerfa's first thought was robbery, to just get out and let the gunmen take whatever they wanted. They didn't get far.
"We were stopped in our tracks on the beach and men with assault rifles had surrounded us," said Kevin.
They directed the mother and son onto a boat. Kevin's older Filipino cousin got in too, hoping he could protect them.
"They were not talking to us. They were not saying anything," said Gerfa. "They were just looking at us."
They listened for the sound of passing boats during a terrifying three-hour voyage, but heard nothing.
His mother's scream had startled Kevin from his sleep. Out there in the middle of the ocean, he hoped he was just in a dream.
"I just started pinching, just pinching and I wasn't waking up," said Kevin.
The nightmare continued when they made it to shore. There were more men waiting for them, to lead them on a treacherous, barefoot hike. The jungle was so thick, the men cut a path with knives. A commander arrived at the camp and spoke a dialect Gerfa knows. He demanded $100 million.
"So I was trying to bargain with him here so he finally was like well how about $10 million. That amount is still ridiculous. I know there's no way I could talk to him or convince him that I don't have that money," said Gerfa Lunsmann. "I just look up in heaven and I'm hoping he can tell me what to do and this beautiful star just looks down. I pointed at them and said if you can get the star my husband can give you $10 million."
Night sky after night sky they sat inside a tiny cage made from limbs. Dateline NBC recreated it based on specifications from Gerfa and Kevin.
The sounds of insects and birds at certain times helped them keep track as days passed.
"We did keep track of the dates by entering them into wood in the cage," said Kevin. "At a point we had given up on that because after a span of time you begin to feel hopeless and you don't want to keep filling in those tally marks, because you don't want to know how long you've been there."
Suddenly one day, after about three months.
"They just pointed at my mother and said she's leaving," said Kevin.
Kevin knew they were lying when they told him she'd be back. The captives had been waiting for food all day. Gefra promised to be back for dinner.
Part II of this story will air at 11 p.m. on Thursday.
Don't miss Dateline's special Friday night at 10 p.m. on WSLS 10.
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