'Complex' kidnapping plot foiled by FBI rescue in Cumberland County
Posted July 15
Updated July 16
Fayetteville, N.C. — On July 9, a 23-year-old man in St. Matthews, S.C., was on his way to work when he was pulled over by people he thought were law enforcement officers.
Instead, they were kidnappers.
The man’s abduction, and the investigation resulting in his rescue in Cumberland County on Tuesday, led FBI investigators to another country and through multiple states.
It was all over drugs, said David Thomas, special agent in charge of the FBI office in Columbia, S.C.
“It was complex because we had a victim that was kidnapped in St. Matthews, S.C., and the hostage demands were coming in from Mexico,” he said. “So, automatically you got a huge issue when you have another country involved. There were telephone calls coming from multiple numbers, multiple people and our victim, we had no idea where in the United States he was located. So, at that point, you have a lot of territory to cover and not a lot of information in which to do that.”
The victim’s pickup truck was found in a driveway with the driver’s door open and the engine running, which led South Carolina investigators to quickly assume they were dealing with a possible abduction, Thomas said.
The pieces were put together the next day when the victim’s family started receiving phone calls demanding money, Thomas said.
In a typical kidnapping investigation, authorities look at where the hostage phone calls are coming from, which is likely where the victim is, Thomas said.
But this case was different, one of the most complex of Thomas’ 25-year law enforcement career.
“We knew that our victim wasn’t going to be in Mexico, but that narrowed it down to the United States, which wasn’t very helpful,” he said.
Within the following days, the FBI poured multiple resources into the investigation. Special hostage negotiators were flown in from Washington, D.C. FBI SWAT teams from Columbia, Charlotte and Atlanta were brought in, along with an FBI elite hostage rescue team.
Leads came in from across the country, including Houston, Jacksonville, Fla., Philadelphia, Norfolk, Va., and New Haven, Conn.
More than 20 law enforcement agencies across the country were involved in the case, including the Raleigh, Durham and Fayetteville police departments and the Durham County Sheriff’s Office.
“We didn’t know where the victim was,” Thomas said. “If a lead came in and we had information, we had people that might be travelling and things we were trying to find and persons of interest, people that might have information. So, we were searching and running down any lead we possibly could, and it took us into other states and in all type of directions until we could compile it all and eventually come up with an area that we felt fairly certain that our victim would be in.”
Authorities narrowed their search to North Carolina within the first few days of the investigation.
“We knew there were people there we were interested in, but we had no way of knowing until the time we recovered the victim,” Thomas said. “There was no way to be 100 percent sure.”
Investigators identified five locations between Cumberland and Robeson counties where the victim could be. Each location was searched early Tuesday morning.
The victim, whose name has not been released for safety, was found in a residence in Cumberland County. He was injured, but not severely, Thomas said. The man has since been reunited with his family.
More information about the case, including the names of those arrested, will be released Wednesday, Thomas said.
“There will be considerable amount of work left to do in this case,” he said.