Kidnap victim hugs police rescuers, says he's already a changed man

August 19, 1993|By Newsday

NEW YORK -- While he sometimes lost hope, Harvey Weinstein never lost his fighting spirit during the 12 days he was entombed in a darkened pit.

At an emotional news conference yesterday with New York Mayor David N. Dinkins, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and the detectives who set him free, an unshaven Mr. Weinstein embraced the men to whom he owes his life and said his rescue "redoubled" his feelings of pride in New York.

"I can't permit fear to govern my life," said the tuxedo factory owner. "I will walk proudly in the streets of New York. I will eat where I choose when I choose and I will not be looking over my shoulder every 30 seconds to see who's behind me. I can't live that way, and I won't."

Speaking slowly and deliberately, Mr. Weinstein said his Marine Corps training and Arthur Koestler's novel "Darkness at Noon" carried him through.

"There were many times I did lose faith, I did lose hope," he said. "I knew immediately that the key was my mind, not my body. I could live on one piece of fruit and plain water for a long time. My body wasn't giving out."

To keep focused, he said, he composed an autobiography in his head, plumbing his memory to recite his life, chapter by chapter.

Mr. Weinstein began his statement by hugging the detectives who Monday pulled him from the pit where kidnappers had imprisoned him. Mr. Weinstein clasped Detective William Mondore's hand and held it aloft in front of the packed news conference.

"Grabbing this hand . . . was an experience that very few humans are ever given," said Mr. Weinstein, whose month-old custom-made tan suit hung slack around his body, now 18 pounds lighter. "I knew I was home, I knew I was safe, and I knew God had smiled down on me."

"You have to live through this to understand the depth of despair when I really gave up -- almost," he said.

As Mr. Weinstein spoke, a dozen family members and the detectives and their colleagues from the Major Case Squad and the Special Investigations Division seemed moved.

"To my dying day, and I hope it's not for a while, they will be my very good friends for life," Mr. Weinstein said. "Bill Mondore and Ruben Santiago will always be with me and my prayers will

always be with them." Detective Santiago was Detective Mondore's partner during the rescue.

Mr. Weinstein said he had believed he was being held captive in New Jersey because he traveled across several bridges on his way to the hole and several times he thought he heard search planes above.

Asked whether he felt bitterness toward the men and women who abducted him, Mr. Weinstein was ambivalent. His voice faltering, he said: "I can't answer the question, I'm not truly in touch with a certain part of me," he said, as he made a gesture to strangle an imaginary kidnapper.

"But there's another part of me [that says], 'Oh my God, how could you do this, how could you do this?' " he said. "If I knew they intended to abandon me and let me die in the hole, I guess my bitterness would be so much stronger."

He said the ordeal had changed him. "I'll try to be better, more caring, more loving, more considerate, a better parent, a better grandparent," he said.

Meanwhile, the third suspect in the case was arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court yesterday.

Aurelina Leonor was ordered held without bail following her arraignment on kidnap charges until Aug. 23, her next court appearance, authorities said.

Police said she is the girlfriend of the accused kidnapping ringleader, Fermin Rodriguez, and made several of the phone calls traced by authorities during Mr. Weinstein's captivity.

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