Despite ordeal, Julie Mulligan believes in Rotary mission

Recounts story to local Rotarians

Lori A. Mayne
Published on August 17, 2009
Julie Mulligan has also been working to turn her experience into something positive. As part of her speaking about the ordeal, she's also collecting donations towards a women's health project. She is seen here with husband, John, when they were in Summerside to meet with local Rotarians. Lori A. Mayne/Journal Pioneer

When Julie Mulligan and her host returned from a Rotary meeting in northern Nigeria, a car was waiting for them at the gate.
After a few words, three men - one with a machine gun - jumped out of the car. They pulled her Rotary host out of the vehicle, dragged Mulligan out and threw her into their car.
They jammed the machine gun in her back and pointed it at her head, telling her if she lifted her head or opened her eyes they'd shoot.
Mulligan had been taken off into the darkness of a third-world city she didn't know. She was held captive for nearly two weeks this spring before being released and then returned home to Drayton Valley, Alta. Her husband, John "Leaming" Mulligan grew up in Newton.
Still believing in the value of Rotary exchange programs and sympathetic to the Nigerian people, Mulligan shared her story with Rotarians in Summerside recently.
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SUMMERSIDE - Julie Mulligan thought she'd put one over on her captors. She found body cream in the tiny Nigerian home where she was held hostage.
Mulligan put the greasy cream on squeaky door hinges so she could move around without them knowing.
It worked too well.
"I couldn't hear them coming," she explained.
Mulligan, 44, was kidnapped at gunpoint in northern Nigeria this spring. The Alberta woman, married to native Islander John "Leaming" Mulligan, spent almost two weeks in captivity.
Mulligan was held outside for a few days, then at the home.
"I'd been watching a little too much 'Escape from Alcatraz' with Clint Eastwood," she said, chuckling at her very real escape efforts.
She chipped with a spoon at roughshod cement holding window bars in her room. She tried hanging on the bars to dislodge them. She searched for the machine gun that had been jammed into her back and pointed at her head during abduction.
The wife and mother tried initially to push family from her mind.
"I knew that if I thought about them, I'd end up getting quite weepy about that and I needed to be strong in order to figure out how to get out of there."
Mulligan said she actually wasn't treated terribly.
Sleeping on an 11-inch-wide board outside wasn't so bad, though there were bugs and lizards to contend with. She was covered with mosquito bites and feared she'd get malaria. Mulligan also got an impromptu look at Nigerian life at the home. Fresh water was in short supply. There was a spout and bucket to wash. There were three days the house had no water.
Her captors seemed to sense she couldn't handle dishes like dried fish or goat head. Mulligan ate white rice, white rice and more white rice. She lost 13 pounds. "I'm thinking about writing a diet book actually; it's called 'White Rice'," she joked.
Mulligan regularly saw five people involved in her kidnapping - two young men the entire time. They were 19 and about 22 - similar ages to her children. She still worries about them. "They were basically doing this job because they had been hired. They wanted to have money to finish school."
Mulligan said her biggest hardship was losing freedom. But she chose to get along with her captors - helping clean the house and forming a bond with those holding her. "I knew it was for my own good - and partly because I just needed to."
Those behind her kidnapping initially demanded $884,000, later reducing the amount. Mulligan had also been told kidnapping could be political, a way to make a governor lose face.
"We cannot pay ransom in these countries because that's why I get kidnapped," she said, explaining no money was exchanged. But Mulligan wanted the sum paid at the time.
"I was trying to figure out how I was going to pay it myself. I was going to try to negotiate with my rings. I was trying to figure out how I could get John into the country to put money in a bank account."
There were terrifying moments aside from abduction. A phone call threw her captors into frenzy. They locked the home, took the machine gun and left Mulligan inside wondering what was next (she later learned they'd discovered one of her captors had been caught by the secret service.)
The hours leading to release were terrifying: she was led in the dark to an unknown destination, at times left alone. Mulligan feared she'd become a liability and might be shot. Even after being left alone and then found by police, her would-be rescuers argued over what they should do. Mulligan only felt safe when three guys in suits arrived with calming words: "We're from the Canadian government and we're here to take you home."
Mulligan feels humbled by support from around the world.
While many people talk about living for the moment, Mulligan tries to put it into practice.
"Don't miss your opportunity to say and do whatever it is you need to do," she said. "You really don't know what's going to happen next."