Teen fights for release of father held by Colombian rebels


Published: Sunday, January 6, 2008 at 2:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 6, 2008 at 2:50 p.m.

SARASOTA, Fla. - While most 15-years-olds are working toward getting their drivers licenses, Kyle Stansell is working toward getting his father released from Colombian rebels.

Kyle and his grandparents recently took a trip to Venezuela to meet President Hugo Chavez and learn what he could about his father's situation.

"There was a gold ceiling and marble floors," Kyle told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. "He gave me a hug and through a translator told me that my dad would be proud."

Keith Stansell, 44, was flying anti-drug operations for an American company in 2003 when his plane crashed. He and two other Americans were taken hostage by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by the Spanish acronym FARC.

Since his father was taken captive, Kyle has moved from Georgia to Indiana to Sarasota, where his father's parents also live.

Kyle and his sister Lauren, 19, learned about their father's plane crash the night before Valentine's Day in 2003.

"We didn't know for a day or two they had been taken hostage," Lauren said. "I thought he was dead."

Five months later, the rebels allowed a Colombian journalist to interview and videotape the hostages, confirming that Stansell was alive.

"I wanted to hug the screen," Lauren said.

On the video, Stansell told the children he loved them and reported that two of his co-workers had been shot immediately after the plane crash.

After the videotape in 2003, the Stansells appeared on "60 Minutes" and other news programs. But the siblings are concerned that people in the United States will forget about their father and other hostages.

"It's big news in South America," Lauren said. "But here there are spurts for a week and then the momentum is gone."

The Stansells have met in Washington with State Department officials and recently heard from President Bush's hostage adviser. But Kyle said his trip to Venezuela and Colombia, where he met with Chavez and other government officials, was the most promising development in years.

Chavez has been negotiating with FARC, and two Colombian politicians have been on the verge of being released since New Year's Eve. But there has been no word on Stansell and the other Americans.

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