Just two months after getting married, a Cosmo staffer received a call that her new husband was being held hostage and the captors were threatening to kill him. Here, she opens up about the ordeal.
By Gabrielle Frank
In November 2008, Kristen Mulvihill was loving her life. She had recently started working as the Photography Director for Cosmopolitan and had just married New York Times reporter David Rhode. Then everything fell apart. She received a call that David had been kidnapped in Afghanistan. He had scheduled an interview with a Taliban commander, which led to his capture.
While many women might have broken down, Kristen fearlessly navigated the world of FBI agents and detectives, and even facilitated negotiations with her husband's kidnappers. Thankfully, David escaped and returned safely to the US. We talked to Kristen about the couple's new book, A Rope and a Prayer and how she found the courage to handle the harrowing seven and a half months they were apart and why their relationship has grown stronger having lived through it.
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COSMO: How did you feel when you first got the call that your husband had been kidnapped?
KRISTEN: I was in the midst of arranging a Cosmo shoot about a hiker who was injured in the woods and put her sports bra on a branch to attract attention and get saved. I'd just gotten off a call about that when the phone rang again. It was David's brother Lee, who broke the news that David never returned from an interview in Kabul and the New York Times bureau had notified the FBI. Everything stood still. It took some time for me to comprehend it all.
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COSMO: You dealt with communication from the State Department, the FBI, and then privately-hired contractors and detectives. What was it like to suddenly take on so much responsibility?
KRISTEN: It was sink or swim. It was tricky to navigate it all. We would do a noon call each day and have updates from each person working on our team. Sometimes we clashed on what the course of action should be since we were working with so many different organizations. The FBI would not participate in negotiations, and David was a kidnap for ransom case so we hired our own team of operatives to try to rescue him. I also dealt with his captors one-on-one and took late-night/early morning phone calls about ransom requests - which started at $25 million. But I think everyone devoted tremendous amounts of time and never gave up.
COSMO: How did you keep from totally falling apart during all of this?
KRISTEN: I really leaned on Lee. We had each other to talk everything over, and make major decisions jointly, like deciding to keep David's story out of the press so as not to attract media attention and give the kidnapper's an international audience - which is what they wanted. Sometimes we would go for days and eventually weeks without any word about David and that was really tough for everybody. But I never really had the option of falling apart throughout the whole ordeal, since I was so immersed in the case and focused on getting David home.
COSMO: What was it like to be apart from your husband for so long?
KRISTEN: We found ways to feel connected to each other. Like for me, it was saying prayers for him, looking at our wedding picture everyday, and taking walks in familiar areas. Later, he told me that during his captivity, he relived some of the travel we did together, museums we went to, and things like that.
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COSMO: About six months after he'd been taken hostage, the FBI was sent a video of David, where he was crying and appeared to have lost a significant amount of weight. In the book you described how this made you finally snap. What was going through your mind?
KRISTEN: Up until that point, I thought we had been making progress, and he would be coming home soon. But suddenly it become clear that this wasn't a couple weeks or months and we could be entering year-long territory. I realized I was going to have to let go and be patient. That was a tough lesson to learn.
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COSMO: After 7 months of being held hostage, David threw a stolen rope over a wall and escaped to a Pakistani army base where he was able to call home and have American authorities alerted to his current location. What's it like being back together?
KRISTEN: It is still somewhat surreal. It's sort of like time just stopped. In fact, when I met him in Dubai after he escaped, I was surprised that he looked so normal. After seven and a half months, they fed him and they didn't abuse him. And the fact that he escaped, took matters into his own hands - I think that had a lot to do with how the transition was a bit easier than we would have thought. I feel like there was this whole year that was kind of its own long season of waiting. Writing the book was a really good way to process it and to learn about each other's experience. So that was really helpful in having a moment to reconnect and make sense of things.
COSMO: How did this experience affect you as a newly married couple?
KRISTEN: It made us stronger. It actually was sort of a short cut to solving the issue of when was he going back to Afghanistan. Now, he's decided on his own terms that he doesn't want to go back, which is a nice side benefit for me - since that thought was always in the back of my mind. It's nice that he came to that conclusion on his own. And we are just thankful to have a second chance and appreciate each other. We still argue over where we are going for the holidays, but it's so wonderful to have the opportunity to do that.
Photo by Eric Swain.
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