AGSTAR Photojournalism

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Day I Was Kidnapped

Less then 30 days since my arrival at LA PRENSA as photo editor 8 years ago I was kidnapped along with the newsroom by drunken, crazed former Contra rebel.

That afternoon things got crazy when news broke that former president Aleman's son had died. TV screens flashed images of his body arriving at the hospital and the radio first reported that he had died in an ambush. Actualy he died of carbon monoxide poisoning trying to rescue some workers in his farm.

Tirso Moreno an ex contra revolutionary rebel was driving by our newspaper when he heared the news, he turned his car around and entered the newspaper armed and furious. Aleman had been a target of our newspaper for the multiple curruption charges that where levelled against him during his administration.

Our newsroom went crazy, our editor in chief complained of shortness of breath and was rushed to the hospital, and as I walked out to take a breath of fresh air I found Tirso Moreno, a gun in both his hands, locked in a stand off with one our security guards. They both where aiming thier guns at each other, and as I walked out into this surreal scene, Tirso turned one of the guns on me asking, "Who are you?" I responded by putting my hands in the air and said "Nobody."

Then he turned to the guard and told him in a cold voice, "Give me your gun or I will shoot the Chele."(Nicaraguan slang for blonde) As I tried to get out of the way he took the guard's weapon and slid behind me, placing the barrel of a gun into the small of my back. This way, we walked into the newsroom.

He screamed "Aqui esta la Contra!" and as he waved one gun into the air I managed to slip away from his grip, as he walked further into the newsroom. I went to the bathroom as I knew it had a window leading to the outside, but only managed to make it to the ladies room where 30 other people where already hiding.

After a few minutes shots rang out. All I could think about was the St. Louis shooting in one of the newspapers in the 1980's and that I definitly needed to get out of there. I walked out of the bathroom and again was met by the gunman as he returned back into the newsroom after exchanging gunfire with the security guards. I made three attempts to get out.

On the third one, as he was looking the other way, I made a brake for it. I ran out the door, half expecting to be shot in the back. As I made it out I found several dozen police officers and of course our photographers trying to get into the newsroom.

For me it was over, I was outside and got a terrible case of the shakes. I called my wife at work and since she was not available I just left a message telling her that I was alright. I walked into a neighboring restuarant and sat in the bathroom for about 10 minutes untill I regained my composure.

After a couple of hours and barricading himself in the photo department the gunman eventualy turned himself over to the police. Nobody was hurt. All we had was frayed nerves.

We carried on into the business of publishing next day's edition. We had a massive paper to publish with two massive stories.

I still find it incredible that we all got together, souped our film, wrote our stories, and published next day's paper.

Several days after, I started recieving threatening phone calls, since Tirso Moreno, the gunman, was now beeing charged and I was one of the witnesses of the prosecution.

I took different routes back home, at night. I would drive past my house several times before actually stoping to open the gate, and could not sleep for weeks.

Tirso got time served, since he was drunk and did not hurt anybody. After that things calmed down and went back to normal, or as normal as life in Nicaragua can be.

Any way here are some of images from that day.


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