FBI agent talks about dramatic rescue of kidnapping victim

Juan Manuel Fuentes-Morales. Photo provided by the FBI community relations unit.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced Tuesday the successful recovery of a 23-year-old man who was kidnapped in Calhoun County, SC and taken to North Carolina by a group of people in an elaborate plot with an international connection.

The victim was rescued about 5 a.m. Tuesday morning at a home in Cumberland County, North Carolina. His name isn't being released for his safety and that of his family.

FBI agents arrested three people for their involvement in the plot, and more arrests are expected.

Wednesday morning the names of the three people charged in the plot were released.

Luis Castro-Villeda, 22, Ruben Ceja-Renjal, 57, and Juan Manuel Fuentes-Morales, 26, have been charged, according to a release from the FBI community relations unit.

FBI Special Agent David Thomas talked with WPDE NewsChannel 15 about what led to the recovery of the 23-year-old kidnapping victim.

FBI Special Agent David Thomas talked with WPDE NewsChannel 15 about what happened.

He said the Calhoun County Sheriff's Office contacted the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and the FBI on July 9 and 10 about a missing person's case.

"The Calhoun County Sheriff's Department initiated an investigation when they found a truck. There was a pickup truck with the door open and the motor running in his yard, something that was very unusual. So the Calhoun County Sheriff's Department started looking into the circumstances around that. They immediately called SLED, the State Law Enforcement Division because it didn't look like the vehicle had just broke down. They couldn't find the owner," said David Thomas, Special Agent in charge of the FBI's Columbia Field Office.

Thomas added they immediately determined this was an abduction case.

He said the victim was targeted. The kidnappers knew who he was and used blue lights to stop the victim in his pickup and that's when they grabbed him out of the car.

"He pulled over and complied, thinking that it was legitimate law enforcement," said Thomas.

He said the kidnappers took the victim to North Carolina and held him there. He added demands were sent to the man's family within hours of his disappearance and over a period of several days.

"The ransom demands were coming out of Mexico. We were receiving numerous telephone calls from different people in Mexico. And obviously we knew that our victim was not in Mexico, but we knew that our victim would be located somewhere in the United States. We had no idea where."

Thomas said they used the resources of several law enforcement agencies across the country to narrow down where the victim was being held. He said they knew time was of the essence.

"They made it clear on the telephone that if the demands were not met, this person would be killed. We narrowed it to five different locations in North Carolina where we thought he was being held. We were not a 100% sure. This (Tuesday) morning we brought in SWAT teams from Atlanta, Columbia, Charlotte. Three teams of hostage rescue teams out of Washington, DC. They flew down to make sure we hit multiple locations simultaneously."

Thomas said they were able to successfully rescue the 23-year-old victim because of those resources and collaboration with other law enforcement agencies.

The 23-year-old man had some injuries, but is okay, Thomas said.

"The cooperation among federal, local, and state law enforcement agencies and across state lines was nothing short of incredible throughout this investigation. The attention and resources contributed to this investigation should send a strong message that the FBI and its partners will not tolerate the kidnapping of American citizens."

Numerous law enforcement agencies and departments played key roles in assisting the Columbia FBI Field Office in this successful recovery mission: FBI Field Offices in Charlotte, Atlanta, Houston, Jacksonville, LEGAT Mexico City, Newark, New Haven, Norfolk, New York, Philadelphia, Richmond and the Washington Field Office; SLED; the Calhoun County Sheriff's Office; the Orangeburg County Sheriff's Office; the South Carolina Department of Public Safety; the Columbia Police Department; the Richland County Sheriff's Office; the Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office; the University of South Carolina Police Department; Bladen County Emergency Services; the Bladen County Sheriff's Office; the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office; the Sampson County Sheriff's Office; the Durham County Sheriff's Office; the Durham

Police Department; the Elizabethtown Police Department; the North Carolina Department of Public Safety; the Raleigh Police Department; the Fayetteville Police Department; the Texas Department of Public Safety; the Drug Enforcement Administration; and the U.S. Attorneys' Offices for the Eastern District of North Carolina and the District of South Carolina.