Kidnapped Ballplayer Ramos Found Alive in Venezuela
By SIMON ROMERO
Published: November 11, 2011
Venezuelan security forces rescued the kidnapped Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos in an airborne operation on Friday after finding him in a mountainous area of northern Venezuela, officials said.
Communications Minister Andrés Izarra announced the rescue two days after Ramos was kidnapped by gunmen outside his home in the industrial city of Valencia, in the northern part of the country. Izarra said Ramos was “found alive” in the Montalbán area of Carabobo, the state that encompasses Valencia.
“I’m the happiest man on earth,” Abraham Ramos, the player’s father, said in comments broadcast late Friday on Venezuelan state television. “My son is safe and sound.”
The kidnapping of Ramos, which followed several abductions of relatives of top baseball players in Venezuela, focused new attention on the country’s soaring rates of violent crime, including abductions and murder. Candlelight vigils were held and banners were hung in stadiums for Ramos, 24, who had an impressive rookie season with the Nationals in 2011.
Another senior Venezuelan official, Interior Minister Tarek El Aissami, said on state television that President Hugo Chávez had authorized the rescue mission, which included the country’s Bolivarian National Guard.
El Aissami said three men had been detained in connection with the abduction. He declined to provide more details of the mission, but said that he had spoken with Ramos and that he was in “very good health.”
Authorities had assembled an unusually large investigative team of more than 300 people, including groups from an elite anti-kidnapping squad and the secret intelligence police. Before the rescue, officials sought to dispel rumors about what had happened to Ramos. At one point they issued a statement disputing information that Ramos had been killed and his body found near Valencia’s bullring.
The Caracas newspaper Últimas Noticias reported that at least two vehicles believed to have been used in the abduction were found abandoned near Ramos’s home in Valencia. The use of multiple vehicles and the involvement of several gunmen suggested that the abduction might have been more sophisticated than many of the other so-called express kidnappings that plague Venezuela, in which victims are usually released a short time after they are seized.
“We couldn’t have received better news,” said Katherine Vilera, a spokeswoman for the Aragua Tigers, the Venezuelan team for which Ramos was playing.
Ramos’s teammates and others associated with Venezuela’s professional baseball league followed the case with apprehension and concern. Carlos Valmore Rodríguez, a Venezuelan baseball columnist, warned of a possible chilling effect the kidnapping could have on other stars pondering a stint in Venezuela’s winter season.
“Obviously, they’ll wonder if this could happen to them,” he said in a telephone interview.
An American playing in the Venezuelan league, the Washington Nationals pitching prospect Ryan Tatusko, wrote an account after Ramos’s abduction describing the security precautions taken by various Venezuelan teams. He described being kept in well-guarded hotels and being accompanied by several plainclothes security guards.
“I cannot remember a time when anyone has ever traveled alone anywhere at any time,” Tatusko wrote.