Kidnapped in Columbia


Dolores Halden with her husband, Philip Halden | Photographed by Dolores Halden

Sahba Ostovarravary

“Philip Halden, a mechanical engineer, from England, who was working for FLSMITH, a Danish Company in the Cement Industry, was traveling together with other Engineers; a German, a Danish and a Colombian from Medellin to Rio Claro, to work on the ‘Cementos Rio Claro’ factory, located in the heart of the Colombian jungle.

It was Monday, February 5th of the year 1996. Very early in the morning. They were traveling by car to work at the factory after having a restful weekend in Medellin. At the middle of their way, they were intercepted by a group of heavily armed people who forced them to leave the vehicle and to quickly move to the woods, to the middle of the jungle,” says Mrs. Halden, recounting the situation her husband was placed in while he was in Columbia.

Dolores Halden is currently one of the Spanish teachers at Roswell High School, and she is recounting the kidnapping of her husband in Columbia. There are few scenarios that can be thought of that would be as horrifying as losing a loved one for ransom, and Ms. Halden was brave enough to recount her story of the ordeal.

The political climate in Colombia during this time was anarchy. “When My husband was kidnapped (February 5th, 1996), the political environment around north of Colombia, was a ‘socialist’ and ‘Communist movement.’ The guerrilla forced young people, men and women, to follow their troops. There were as young as 13 years old, the majority teenagers. Lots of them were in their twenties, with very poor living conditions, but they were very well trained to operate heavy gun-machines (Kalashnikovs).

The leaders were very well trained to manipulate people and to keep up with the kidnapping business. Their goal is to keep the hostages as a commodity to sell them for ransoms dealing with millions of dollars for each of them. Those years they were capturing about 3 or 4 hostages per day.” The terrorist organizations that kidnapped Mr. Halden are still in operation today, and Columbia is still in a state of political corruption and chaos.

To say that what Ms. Halden, her two daughters, and her husband had to go through was stressful would be a massive understatement. “This was a nightmare. Constant desperation for 7 months and a half. This was horrible. We didn’t know if he was alive or dead,” says Halden. For over 7 months, her husband was in the hands of Colombian terrorist organizations that demanded a four million dollar ransom.

“He was a hostage for 224 days. From February 5th, 1996 till September 15th, 1996. During this time, he was kept in different places, mainly under a big cascade, sleeping during day time in dark places, and forced to run from one place to another at night time, with no privacy and exposed to the attack of all kinds of insects, other animals and mother nature.”

While in this troubling scenario, Mrs. Halden was in a constant state of fear and worry. “I was told that I can’t do anything on my own to help my husband. For seven months and a half my telephone was intercepted.” The feeling of completely hopelessness that Mrs. Halden went through must have been heart-shattering.

This however, did not stop Mr. Halden’s company from attempting to negotiate a rescue. “Most of the negotiations went through the FLSMITH Company, and their special organizations like Control Risks (British company specialized on hostages issues), Sometimes they negotiate through the Red Cross. The best negotiators were the German Secret Service. They managed to obtain the hostages’ freedom.” Fortunately, the company Mr. Halden was operating under seemed to be familiar with these kinds of hostage situations, and he was safely returned home.

“The British authorities didn’t want to be involved paying the ransom, but the British Ambassador in Colombia was very helpful.” The British government does not make negotiations with terrorists, so they could not assist Mrs. Halden or her husband with their problems. Interestingly, the German government seemed eager to assist Mrs. Halden, as “all the negotiations were through the German Secret Service.” The German Secret Service was involved due to a German engineer being present during the hostage crisis.

Along with Mr. Halden,  there were multiple other engineers that were kidnapped and held hostage. “The other engineers were released in different times. The German Secret Service performed speedy negotiations for the released of the German hostage. He was released in May, but he died mysteriously at home in October. The other ones: the Danish went back to Denmark, trying  to go back to a ‘normal’ life, but he lost his job. The Colombian engineer went back to his family for help getting over his depression, and to go back to normal life, but we desperately wanted to leave Colombia.” Fortunately, it seems that Mr. Halden is still able to live a normal and happy life with his loving family.

Having to deal with the constant fear of the safety of a loved one is surely one of the most stressful things a person can go through, and with the bravery and resolve of Mrs. Halden and her husband, negotiations were made to ensure Mr. Halden’s safety. While this may not be the case of many families with similar situations around the world, it is important to realize the value of staying brave in these situations and cherishing loved ones.