Kidnapped

Texan Larry Plake went out to one offshore oil job too many and ended up held for ransom in the Nigerian jungle.

That night, in McKinney, Collette was feeling anxious as she rushed through the front door of her suburban home. She had just picked her daughters up from gymnastics and had to get them fed, but all she could think about was that her husband was going to be mad at her. They had a standing appointment every night to talk on Skype, an Internet telephone service, and she was late. She tried to get online but the connection wasn't working, so Collette walked upstairs to her bedroom to cool out. The phone rang.

Thinking it must be her husband, she headed back downstairs to pick up the main phone in the kitchen, but the answering machine beat her to it.

"I never caught their name," Collette says. "He just said this is so-and-so from Larry's company, and my heart sank because I knew."

Members of the Niger-Delta Freedom Fighters held Plake hostage at their camp for three weeks.
Courtesy of Larry Plake
Members of the Niger-Delta Freedom Fighters held Plake hostage at their camp for three weeks.

Collette picked up the phone and listened as the man told her that Plake's barge had been attacked. No one knew if he'd been kidnapped, only that he was missing.

"I got so angry right there on the phone," says Collette. "I blamed them and said, 'You better find him and get him back! So help me God, if he dies over there I'll own your company!'"

When she hung up, she turned and saw her two daughters staring at her. They had heard every word.

"Is Daddy dead?" asked five-year-old Jadyn.

"No, baby," answered Collette, hugging them tight. "Right now the bad men with guns have Daddy. But we're going to get him back."

Collette is a no-nonsense woman with a sharp voice that could split a diamond. Furious at what had happened, she called everyone she knew — family, neighbors — telling them the news. Yet she was just as angry at herself for letting Plake go. Down deep she knew this would happen. It had only been a matter of time. She and Plake had been talking on Skype for weeks about how an increasing number of hostages were being taken. There had been several recent kidnappings in the same area where Plake was captured.

Collette did not sleep that night. Her sister drove up from Baytown and arrived around 4 a.m.

Amazingly enough, Plake called the house that afternoon, saying he was alive and in the middle of nowhere. He sounded frantic, but said he'd call again and then hung up. Collette felt relieved, but knew the hard part was still to come. She had to get him home.

That night, agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation showed up at her door. They tapped her phone, put a tracking device on it in case Plake called again, and told her that if he did call, to let the FBI know before she told anyone else.

Collette says that when her husband's company found out about the FBI's request, they got upset. She says a company representative told her that if Plake or his captors contacted her again, she should call Global Industries first and the FBI after that. Collette says company officials told her that they didn't want anyone to interfere with their rescue efforts.

"I felt so stressed-out and conflicted," says Collette. "But the FBI explained to me that my husband was now a U.S. hostage because of the company, and there went my loyalty. Every time Larry called, I'd call the FBI first."

Global officials also discouraged Collette from talking to the other three crewmembers' wives, threatened to cut off her home phone line if they thought she was trying to negotiate with the militants, and forbade her to talk to the media, Collette says. The only news item she saw was on a CNN ticker that said four Americans had been taken off the Nigerian coast.

All of the additional pressure helped push Collette into a deep depression. Her mother and sister cared for the kids while Collette spent day and night in her living room. She didn't eat, losing 20 pounds. Plake would occasionally call, but as the days rolled by it felt like no one was making any progress. On Mother's Day, she received a bouquet of flowers from Plake that he had ordered online the day before he was kidnapped.
_____________________

From the moment they arose each morning, Plake's kidnappers, wearing nothing but boxer shorts, started drinking, smoking dope, shooting their guns straight up in the air and arguing. They kept their marijuana in 50-pound rice sacks and would put what they didn't smoke into jars of moonshine made out of palm tree sap to ferment. Invariably drunk by noon, they'd gulp down this potent mix until they passed out at night. But not before a couple of the militants would typically get into a fight and go after each other with machetes or clubs.

In the humid afternoons, while Plake sat bored in his chair, many of his captors would play cards or huddle around a small television and watch the same five Rambo and Jean-Claude Van Damme films over and over.

The men asked Plake how many people had died in the movies. Then it dawned on Plake, This isn't enjoyment for them, it's training. They think it's real. He had to explain that it was just Hollywood.

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