Jessica Buchanan & Erik Landemalm: Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau

Jessica Buchanan & Erik Landemalm

Kidnapped in Somalia, Rescued by SEAL Team 6

Jessica Buchanan and Erik Landemalm met and married in Africa, where each worked in the humanitarian aid field. Buchanan, from the Midwest, arrived deeply sympathetic to the plight of child soldiers in Africa, whose poverty and illiteracy forces them to earn a salary as cannon fodder. Still in her twenties, she secured her teaching degree and taught grade school age children, and later went to work on landmine awareness in Somalia. Landemalm came from Sweden in his late twenties to work with local NGOs and various government and clan authorities in the Horn of Africa, combating clan violence and helping to rebuild infrastructure. Sharing their passion for this work, they married on the beach in Kenya in 2009 and began life together. Two years later, Buchanan was kidnapped in public by armed Somali “land pirates” who held her and a colleague at gunpoint. She was held for ransom outdoors in the local scrub desert, where she remained for 93 days.

In that life-threatening environment, 32-year-old Buchanan was the only female amid twenty-six gun-toting and drugged addled captors who restrained her in foul conditions. Several were child-soldiers, and one even wore the bracelet awarded to children who graduated from her landmine awareness classes. She was psychologically tormented by the few who spoke English. Forced to her knees in the dark of night for a mock execution, she was held under the repeated threat of beheading and endured forced intimacies from her only translator during the ransom negotiations.

She was driven to confront her deepest self-doubts and greatest spiritual longing. Though she was once a devout Christian, she had become distanced from any driving sense of spiritual awareness until her kidnapping found her alone, night after night, while forced to lie on a small sleeping mat under an open desert sky, with nothing to do but think.

In her isolation, Buchanan relearned the difference between prayers for deliverance that come from fear, and prayers for strength that come from acceptance. In a blurry world of starvation and illness, she slipped in and out of reality, imagining conversations with her recently departed mother. She eventually found herself feeling the presence of a God who would protect and comfort her spirit, but who would not necessarily prevent her from dying out there.

Her husband, Erik Landemalm, faced a similar torment because he had tried without success to discourage Buchanan from taking the trip that ultimately led to her kidnapping. After her capture he worried that he had given in too easily. Driven by despair, Landemalm wanted to liberate his wife in a private rescue mission, but the FBI stopped him by explaining what the kidnappers would most likely do to Buchanan if he failed.

Although Landemalm was forced to the side by the authorities, he nevertheless employed his knowledge of local culture to plant disinformation through the gossip lines in Somalia and find ways to assist and push the authorities working on the case on behalf of Buchanan’s family. Landemalm went so far as to lie to Buchanan during their one and only phone conversation during the ordeal, keeping key information from her because it could not be allowed to fall into her captors’ hands. He then refused to speak with the kidnappers again after having received advice from the Crisis Management Team’s professional hostage negotiator, fully aware of the grave danger in doing that, but knowing they had to be pushed to soften their impossible demands.

On January, 25, 2012, President Barack Obama ordered a strike by two dozen members of The U.S. Navy’s elite strike team, SEAL Team Six. They parachuted in on a moonless night, snuck up on the open desert encampment, employed precision shooting in total darkness and killed all nine of the pirates on guard duty. They rescued Buchanan and her Danish colleague unharmed.

A little more than nine months after Buchanan’s rescue, she and Landemalm had their first child, a healthy boy named August.

This story follows the ninety-three days of the kidnapping ordeal and employs everything Jessica Buchanan and Erik Landemalm have learned from living and working in Somalia. Their primary concern is the vast challenge of illiteracy for a rising generation of impoverished children in eastern Africa, who inevitably feed the machines of criminality. As child soldiers, they are drafted by force and sustained with regimented drug addiction in lives that are tragic and short.

Jessica Buchanan was born in Portland, Oregon, but spent her formative years growing up outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. In 2003, Buchanan moved to the greater Philadelphia area to pursue a degree in education, and she began to travel during her summer months, teaching and volunteering in Honduras, South Sudan and Rwanda. She secured a student teaching position at an international school based in Nairobi, Kenya, The Rosslyn Academy, and was offered a full time teaching position at that school, which she happily accepted. She later moved to Hargeisa, Somaliland, where she was offered a job as the regional education adviser, also spending time in conflict zones in South Sudan, Uganda and Somalia for the Danish Demining Group, the mine action unit of Danish Refugee Council.

After a staff training visit, in the field office of South Galkayo, Somalia, Buchanan, along with her colleague, Danish citizen Poul Thisted, were abducted by a group of Somalis on October 25, 2011, and her liberation came on the evening of January 25, 2012, 93 days after capture.

Erik Landemalm was born outside of Stockholm, Sweden, and did military service in the Swedish Navy’s Counter Special Operations Forces Unit as a Conscript Sergeant. He attended the University of Örebro in Sweden and the University of Newcastle in Australia. In early 2006, after having already worked with Somalia issues for various Swedish government agencies, Landemalm moved to Somalia to manage a program working with prison reforms and to set up Human Rights standards for the legal sector in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland. While working in Somalia, he also spent time working on programs in Zimbabwe and Kenya for the Swedish NGO, Diakonia. Landemalm started managing projects for a European Parliamentary association with a focus on helping the legislative institutions in Puntland and the unrecognized self-declared state of Somaliland build up their capacity and infrastructural needs. For achievements in Somaliland and Puntland, his projects have received awards and certificates of appreciation, the latest in June 2011 by the President of Somaliland, on behalf of their Parliament.

Landemalm and Buchanan now live in Alexandria, Virginia where they continue their humanitarian efforts to ensure a better quality of life for those in need.

Photograph provided by Mia Collis

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  • The Kidnapping and Rescue as a Defining Spiritual Experience
  • How To Find Hope in the Aftermath
  • Survival from a Woman’s Perspective
  • Coping Mechanisms when Facing Adversity

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