Exhausted and in shock after being kidnapped and interrogated for most of the day, Plake, Roussel, Faller and Gay were searched and stripped of their wallets, watches, necklaces and cell phones. One of the militants demanded Plake give up his wedding ring, but Plake refused, insisting that his wife had put it on his finger and he’d be damned if it was coming off while he was still alive. Another villager stepped forward, telling Plake he could keep it because Plake was a Christian. By some miracle, they didn’t find Plake’s pocketknife, which he hid in his shoe.
That first night, the men were locked in a crudely fashioned thatched-roof hut with screen windows and walls made out of pegboard. Inside there was a table, a bench and a fan connected to a small generator stashed in the corner. A naked light bulb swinging from the ceiling burned brightly all night.
When the men were finally alone, panic set in. They knew the Nigerian military was afraid of venturing this deep into the jungle and that they might as well be trapped on an island. A thousand thoughts raced through Plake’s mind, always ending with, “I think we’re pretty much fucked.”
Plake slept less than an hour that first night, next to Faller on one of two thin foam mattresses in the room.
The next day, on Tuesday, May 8, Plake woke up at 5 a.m. to beating drums and gunfire—a ritual that would continue throughout their captivity. A man unlocked the door and led the hostages to the side of the building, where each was given a plastic lawn chair to sit in all day. This became the daily routine.
That night, in McKinney, Collette was feeling anxious as she rushed through the front door of her suburban home. She had just picked up her daughters from gymnastics and had to get them fed, but all she could think about was that her husband was going to be mad at her. They had a standing appointment every night to talk on Skype, an Internet telephone service, and she was late. She tried to get online, but the connection wasn’t working, so Collette walked upstairs to her bedroom to cool off. The phone rang.
Thinking it must be her husband, she headed back downstairs to pick up the main phone in the kitchen, but the answering machine beat her to it.
“I never caught their name,” Collette says. “He just said, ‘This is so-and-so from Larry’s company,’ and my heart sank because I knew.”
Collette picked up the phone and listened as the man told her that Plake’s barge had been attacked. No one knew if he’d been kidnapped, only that he was missing.
“I got so angry right there on the phone,” Collette says. “I blamed them and said, ‘You better find him and get him back! So help me God, if he dies over there, I’ll own your company!'”
When she hung up, she turned and saw her two daughters staring at her. They had heard every word.
“Is Daddy dead?” asked 5-year-old Jadyn.
“No, baby,” Collette answered, hugging them tight. “Right now the bad men with guns have Daddy. But we’re going to get him back.”
Collette is a no-nonsense woman with a sharp voice that could split a diamond. Furious at what had happened, she called everyone she knew—family, neighbors—telling them the news. Yet she was just as angry at herself for letting Plake go. Down deep she knew this would happen. It had only been a matter of time. She and Plake had been talking on Skype for weeks about how an increasing number of hostages were being taken. There had been several recent kidnappings in the same area where Plake was captured.
Collette did not sleep that night. Her sister drove up from Baytown and arrived around 4 a.m.
Amazingly enough, Plake called the house that afternoon, saying he was alive and in the middle of nowhere. He sounded frantic, but said he’d call again and then hung up. Collette felt relieved, but knew the hard part was still to come. She had to get him home.
That night, agents from the FBI showed up at her door. They tapped her phone, put a tracking device on it in case Plake called again and told her that if he did call, to let the FBI know before she told anyone else.
Collette says that when Plake’s employer found out about the FBI’s request, they got upset. She says a company representative told her that if Plake or his captors contacted her again, she should call them first and the FBI after that. Collette says company officials told her that they didn’t want anyone to interfere with their rescue efforts.
“I felt so stressed-out and conflicted,” Collette says. “But the FBI explained to me that my husband was now a U.S. hostage because of the company, and there went my loyalty. Every time Larry called, I’d call the FBI first.”
Plake’s employer also discouraged Collette from talking to the other three crewmembers’ wives, threatened to cut off her home phone line if they thought she was trying to negotiate with the militants and forbade her to talk to the media, Collette says. The only news item she saw was on a CNN ticker that said four Americans had been taken off the Nigerian coast.
All of the additional pressure helped push Collette into a deep depression. Her mother and sister cared for the kids while Collette spent day and night in her living room. She didn’t eat, losing 20 pounds. Plake would occasionally call, but as the days rolled by it felt like no one was making any progress. On Mother’s Day, she received a bouquet of flowers from Plake that he had ordered online the day before he was kidnapped.