- Associated Press - Saturday, November 12, 2011

VALENCIA, VENEZUELA (AP) - His eyes tearing up with emotion, Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos embraced his rescuers and said he had wondered whether he would survive a two-day kidnapping ordeal that ended when commandos swept into his captors’ mountain hideout.

Ramos said Saturday that he was happy and thankful to be alive a day after his rescue, and that the final moments had been hair-raising as police and the kidnappers exchanged heavy fire in the remote area where he was being held. He said his kidnappers had carefully planned the abduction and told him they were going to demand a large ransom.

“I didn’t know if I was going to get out of it alive,” Ramos told reporters at a police station in his hometown of Valencia, flanked by police investigators and National Guard commanders. “It was very hard for me. It was very hard for my family.”

Ramos, 24, had not been seen or heard from since he was seized at gunpoint outside his home Wednesday night and whisked away in an SUV. It was the first known kidnapping of a Major League Baseball player in Venezuela, and the abduction set off an outpouring of candlelight vigils and public prayers at stadiums as well as outside Ramos‘ house.

Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said Saturday that authorities had arrested four of the captors, all of them Venezuelan men in their 20s. A 60-year-old woman and a 74-year-old man were also arrested as accomplices for supplying the kidnappers with food from their home in the area, he said.

Authorities are still searching for four Colombian men who escaped during the rescue, El Aissami said. He didn’t say whether anyone had been wounded in the gunfire.

El Aissami said investigators had studied past kidnappings in the area for clues about Ramos‘ whereabouts.

A remote mountainous area had been used in a previous kidnapping, El Aissami said, so investigators looked there and found a red SUV parked at a house near where Ramos was being held. The SUV had mud on it even though there was no mud in the area, he said.

It wasn’t clear how investigators connected that first house with the house where Ramos was being held.

President Hugo Chavez personally authorized the rescue operation once investigators thought they had found the spot, El Aissami said, and had followed the operation “minute by minute.”

Ramos had recently returned to his homeland after his rookie year with the Nationals to play during the offseason in the Venezuelan league.

He was just outside his house’s front door with relatives on Wednesday when he was abducted in his working-class neighborhood in Valencia, about 90 miles (150 kilometers) west of Caracas.

Ramos said that when he was seized, his captors drove him for five or six hours, and once changed from one SUV to another. He said they bound his hands at first, but later allowed him not to be tied up. The kidnappers didn’t cover their faces and they spoke little to him, he said.

“They demanded only money,” he said.

Ramos said some of his abductors spoke with Colombian accents and had been studying his movements before carrying out the abduction.

“They told me many things they knew of my private life,” he said. “They knew a lot about me. They had very good information, an informant who told them all that.”

Asked more about that informant, he said he didn’t have further details but that “they themselves told me.”

Ramos said he was kept in a room and passed the time lying on a bed. When the gunfire erupted on Friday as the rescuers arrived, “I was on the bed and I threw myself directly to the floor.”

“It was like 15 minutes of shots until the officials arrived and saw me in the room,” said Ramos, who hugged the justice minister as well as police and National Guard officers.

Ramos said he was enjoying spending time with his family again, and planned to start training on Monday in order to play with his Venezuelan team, the Aragua Tigres, on Wednesday.

He said he didn’t plan to travel back to Washington for now. “I want to stay here to give them that, to the Venezuelan people … so that they can see me play here.”

After his rescue was announced Friday night, Ramos‘ mother Maria Campos de Ramos celebrated, exclaiming on television: “Thanks to God!”

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo also celebrated the news.

“He asked me to thank all who played a role in his rescue, and all those who kept him and his family in their thoughts and prayers,” Rizzo said in a statement. “I join Wilson in thanking the many law enforcement officials in Venezuela and investigators with Major League Baseball who worked tirelessly to ensure a positive ending to what has been a frightening ordeal.”

Security has increasingly become a concern for Venezuelan players and their families as a wave of kidnappings has hit the wealthy as well as the middle class.

The country has one of the highest murder rates in Latin America, and the vast majority of crimes go unsolved. The number of kidnappings has soared in recent years.

Major League Baseball officials said it was the first kidnapping of a major leaguer that they could recall. But relatives of several players have previously been kidnapped for ransom in Venezuela, and in two cases have been killed.

Some kidnappings in Venezuela have previously been carried out by highly organized criminal groups that demand ransom.

Bodyguards typically shadow major leaguers when they return to their homeland to play in Venezuela’s baseball league.

“They didn’t physically harm me, but psychologically I underwent very great harm,” Ramos said. “I was always praying to God, and thanks to God he gave me the miracle of sending me these wonderful people.”

He saluted his rescuers, saying “I’m alive thanks to them.”


AP Sports writers Howard Fendrich in Washington and Ron Blum in New York contributed to this report. Rueda reported from Caracas.



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