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From a U.S. hostage in the Colombian jungle, a marriage proposal

While his Colombian girlfriend and twin sons wait, American captive Keith Stansell reaches out.

By Matthew BristowContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / July 4, 2008

A family waits: American Keith Stansell's twin sons and their Colombian mother, Patricia Medina, wait for his release.

Nathaly Londono

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Bogotá, Colombia

Patricia Medina was nearly five months pregnant when her boyfriend, former US Marine Keith Stansell, left on a reconnaissance flight over a Colombian coca-growing region.

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Five years later, she is still waiting for him to return.

His plane crashed, and Mr. Stansell is one of three Americans held hostage by Colombia's Marxist rebels. He has never seen his 5-year-old twin boys. But early this year he sent Patricia a message: "Will you be my wife?"

Patricia's is one of an estimated 2,800 Colombian families who struggle to keep their hopes, and the memories of their kidnapped relatives, alive. Mostly, they do small things, like celebrate their loved one's birthdays and send out radio messages late at night.

"The families often suffer greater psychological damage than the people who were kidnapped," says Olga Lucia Gomez, head of Pais Libre, a nonprofit group that helps families of kidnap victims. "The hostage knows how he is, where he is, and his state of health. The families don't know," she says.

But sometimes, they get news – or in Patricia's case, a marriage proposal.

On March 3, Patricia waited at Bogotá airport to meet a group of hostages released by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels at the request of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. One of those hostages was former Colombian senator Luis Eladio Perez. He had spent 2-1/2 years in the same guerrilla camps as Stansell and two other American hostages, Tom Howes and Marc Gonsalves, who were also on the plane when its engine failed.

During his years as a hostage Senator Perez got to know the Americans very well. Indeed, he was chained by the neck to Mr. Howes for nine months.

Patricia, a flight attendant for Avianca, a Colombian airline, and had just gotten back on a flight from Los Angeles at 5:30 a.m.. She hadn't slept all night, but she stayed in the airport waiting all day for the freed hostages to arrive. Perez finally arrived in the airport that afternoon, surrounded by family and well-wishers.

After a few minutes, Perez's son told him Patricia was there, too.

"Are you Patricia?" Perez said. "I've got a message for you from Keith." He handed her a rose, and said, "It's the most beautiful message a woman can receive. Keith wants to know if you will be his wife."

"It took me by surprise, and I burst into tears," says Patricia. "I hugged the rose and said, 'Of course I will.' "

There are an estimated 2,800 people who are being held hostage in Colombia.

• 700 by the FARC, left-wing rebels

• 300 by the ELN, left-wing rebels

• 250 by right-wing paramilitaries

• 250 by common criminals

• 1,300 by unknown kidnappers

Source: Pais Libre

Hostage in Colombia

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