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Former Warren County woman talks of kidnapping, rescue in Somalia

Dayton Daily News
Saturday, May 11, 2013

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A woman who grew up in Warren County, was kidnapped in Somalia and rescued by the same Navy Seal team that got Osama Bin Laden, will be profiled Sunday on the 60 Minutes TV show.

For the first time, Jessica Buchanan will share her thoughts on being rescued after 93 days in captivity.

“I figured they were going to rape me and then kill me. I just kept thinking this can’t be the end, this can’t be the end of my life,” Buchanan said during an interview to be aired at 7 p.m. Sunday, on WHIO-TV.

Buchanan and a colleague were working for a Danish group dedicated to educating local people in the war-torn African republic about the dangers from landmines left over from civil wars. They were abducted by a Somali man with an AK-47 and held until the rescue by Seal Team 6 on Jan. 25, 2012. Buchanan and Poul Hagen Thisted, 60, were whisked away by the special operations team in a helicopter, leaving behind nine dead kidnappers, according to reports.

“Oh my God. How terrible,” said Gail Shope, a former neighbor of the Buchanans in Clarksville, a small town along the Warren-Clinton county line. “I can’t imagine the terror she went through.”

Buchanan, 34, got a taste of foreign aid work on a Ridgeville Christian School mission trip to Mexico, according to friends. The school, north of Lebanon, has since closed.

Buchanan grew up in a two-bedroom home in Harlan Township, south of Clarksville. She graduated in 1997 from the Ridgeville Christian School, about 20 miles west, along Ohio 48 in Clearcreek Twp.

While at the school, Buchanan played volleyball and cheered, although she wasn’t a sports enthusiast, said Paul Bilunka, Buchanan’s first teacher at the school in 4th grade. She started a singing group, Mere Images, and wrote a song sung at the school and local churches, friends said.

She went to college in Pennsylvania, before traveling to Africa where she was working for the Danish Demining Group. Her parents and sister moved to Virginia in 2010.

Her mother, Marilyn Buchanan, walked up and down Clarksville Road, often stopping to talk with the Shopes and their horses.

“They were a wonderful family,” Shope said, recalling Jessica and her siblings were busy with school and other activities and her father, John Buchanan, was busy building furniture. Her mother also volunteered at the school.

Bilunka remembered seeing her for the last time at her mother’s memorial service, about a year before the kidnapping.

“She loved it. She said she was homesick for going back to Africa,” said Bilunka, now a teacher at the Dayton Christian School in Miami Twp.

Her brother, Stephen, stayed with a family just east of the school on Lower Springboro Road and worked at Grandma’s Garden nursery, north of the school and the town of Ridgeville.

Marilyn Buchanan died after the move to Virginia and before her daughter’s captivity, Shope said.

“She didn’t have to go through that,” Shope said. “I can’t imagine what the family went through.”

The TV appearance and a forthcoming book end a prolonged silence.

“Impossible Odds: The Kidnapping of Jessica Buchanan and Her Dramatic Rescue by SEAL Team Six,” is scheduled for release on May 14.

Buchanan co-wrote the book with her husband and author Anthony Flacco.

“I’m glad she’s coming out and talking about it,” said Bilunka, who also served as her high school principal. “She’ll be uncomfortable with notoriety. She’s a low-profile type.”


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