CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuelan police stormed a mountain
camp and rescued the mother of Detroit Tigers pitcher Ugueth Urbina
from kidnappers who demanded $6 million in ransom, ending an ordeal
that lasted more than five months.
The raid Friday left at least one of the abductors dead, but
54-year-old Maura Villarreal was unharmed, police said.
Urbina was reunited with his mother late Friday at a police
station in Caracas, where he hurriedly slipped past reporters to go
inside, saying only: "I'm happy. Excuse me, but now I just want to
Officers from a special anti-kidnapping unit rescued Villarreal
hours earlier from a remote mountainous area in the southern state
of Bolivar, said Joel Rengifo, the chief officer in the division.
"It was a clean and well-planned operation," said Rengifo, who
added that Villarreal was unharmed.
The major leaguer's mother, who had been missing since she was
kidnapped from her home Sept. 1, told reporters the experience was
"unexpected -- I never thought they would kidnap me."
"You can't say they treated me either well or poorly. The most
hurtful thing was having to bear them saying that my son didn't
love me because he didn't pay," Villarreal said.
Rengifo said the kidnappers had demanded $6 million in ransom,
but that the family didn't pay. He said the rescue operation began
early Friday and lasted eight hours in an area near the Guaniamo
River, some 340 miles southwest of Caracas.
Thirty officers carried out the raid, Rengifo said. "We had to
take a boat to arrive on the river by surprise."
He said Villarreal was being held at an abandoned tourist camp
called "Las Nieves," or the snows. The kidnappers, after seeing
the police, were mostly able to flee in heavy exchanges of gunfire,
Rengifo said. One of the abductors was killed.
Weapons and explosives were found at the site.
Villarreal was kidnapped from the town of Ocumare del Tuy in the
southeastern outskirts of Caracas, where her home stands out as the
most expensive on the block, fringed with trees and adjacent to the
family's construction supply business. Police say witnesses told
them the men who came for Urbina's mother more than five months ago
were wearing police uniforms.
The abduction of Villarreal highlighted an apparent rise in
kidnappings in the South American country, the homeland of dozens
of major league players who at times have become targets for
About three quarters of the world's kidnappings occur in Latin
America, according to experts, with the bulk in Colombia, Mexico,
Argentina and Brazil. The insurance industry estimates there are
more than 7,500 kidnappings a year in Latin America, but analysts
say those statistics understate the problem because few kidnappings
Venezuelan police say the number of reported kidnappings in the
country rose from 51 in 1995 to 201 in 2002, the last year for
which official figures have been released.
Many cases are never reported because victims' families quietly
pay the kidnappers.
Urbina isn't the only U.S. major leaguer to have been a victim
of crime in Venezuela. Richard Hidalgo, a right fielder for the
Texas Rangers, was shot in the left forearm during a 2002
Nevertheless, many of the dozens of Venezuelan players in the
U.S. major leagues return to their homeland in the winter to play
in the Venezuelan league and spend time with their families and
friends -- regularly in the poor neighborhoods where they grew up.
Crime has touched Urbina's family before. His father, Juan, died
a decade ago while resisting a robbery attempt in Caracas.