September 17, 2011 in City

Captivity survivor buoyed by God, Bible

Peters spent months in prison in Libya
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Peters
(Full-size photo)

Previous column

Part 1: Richard Peters, a Coeur d’Alene-based contractor and former Navy SEAL, was captured by the forces of Moammar Gadhafi on March 3. After months with no contact, his wife got a brief call from him on July 2 – letting her know he was alive, praying and reading his Bible, and losing a lot of weight.

Second of two parts

At the prison in Tripoli, as July stretched into August, Richard Peters’ captors were growing aggravated. He said he found it easy to resist their efforts to get him to say he was a “spy” for anti-Gadhafi rebels – as a former special forces guy, he was tough and smart, and he kept a positive attitude, though they sometimes questioned him for hours.

At one point, he said, they tried to use his background against him and accused him of being a “human frog” – a mangling of the term frogman. He says he laughed, angering them further.

Meanwhile, Peters had managed to contact people on either side of his cell. They could whisper back and forth through the electrical sockets. Peters spoke to a Spanish prisoner he called Johnny Bravo on one side, and two journalists on the other side.

“What I’m doing, I’m talking to them about the Lord,” he said, voice rising in excitement. “I brought Johnny Bravo to the Lord through that 220-volt socket in prison in Tripoli.”

Despite the hardship, Peters experienced something exhilarating.

“I read my Bible, I prayed, I walked with God – it was incredible,” he said.

He did pull-ups on the window ledge, and jogged – as quietly as he could, so the guards didn’t hear him – around the tiny room, trying to keep his strength up despite the fact that the guards were starting to cut his diet. By early August, all he was getting to eat were a few dates and a warm carton of milk twice a day.

Meanwhile, the rebels and NATO forces were defeating Gadhafi’s troops all over the country. They were surrounding the capital, and closing in.

Back home in Coeur d’Alene, Katie Peters was preparing for her 22-year-old daughter’s wedding on Aug. 20. She had filed numerous congressional inquiries, made contacts in various government departments, traveled to the nation’s capital – all in an effort to find out what was happening with her husband and get him help.

Though the government had little ability to investigate the situation in the midst of the war, she said she was “absolutely” impressed at the attention and effort she received at every turn. She knew her husband was alive, and she believed that, with his SEAL training and his faith, he was prepared. She didn’t want to postpone the wedding or put their lives on hold.

Her daughter was married in a “beautiful, wonderful” ceremony in Sandpoint, Katie said. Her sons walked her daughter down the aisle, and some of the tables were bedecked with photos of Richard and yellow roses.

“It totally changed the color scheme of my daughter’s wedding,” Katie said.

The day of the wedding, in his cell in Tripoli, Richard heard a commotion outside. He climbed up to the high window, peered out. Guards were rushing from the prison. He didn’t know it, but the rebels and NATO forces had reached Tripoli and were beginning the battle that would bring down Gadhafi.

After about 10 minutes, he started pounding on the door. Nothing.

“I go, ‘Man, there’s nobody here,’ ” he said.

He started kicking at the door – a steel door with a steel frame. He kicked and kicked, until he saw that the frame was separating from the wall. Eventually, he knocked out the whole works.

“ ‘Thank you, Lord, for poor construction,’ ” he said.

He helped a few other prisoners get out, but most of the prison had been emptied. “Who knows what happened to everybody, but it probably wasn’t good,” he said.

He made his way to an abandoned government building and hid. The city was in chaos and he wasn’t sure what was happening. He grabbed a length of pipe and prepared to use it as a weapon. He found a can of beans and a warm half of a 7-Up.

“I thought that was pretty good,” he said. “ ‘This ain’t too bad, Lord.’ ”

A group of rebels came into the building, and Peters prepared for a fight. But soon, it became apparent they were on the same side – one of the men pointed to a poster of Gadhafi and said, “Gadhafi, no good,” and Peters repeated it back eagerly. Eventually, one of the men took Peters home and fed him.

It was over. He was out.

“It was stinking unbelievable,” he said.

The day after the wedding, Katie Peters went to church, as she does every Sunday. After the service, she turned her phone back on. She had three messages from Libya.

“It was Richard,” she said, “and he had escaped.”

She sat in her car in the parking lot of the Post Falls church – her spiritual anchor – and she and her sons talked to her husband for nearly two hours, their first real conversation in almost six months.

“There really aren’t words to describe it,” she said this week, sitting at the coffee shop at the same church were that conversation occurred less than a month before. “It’s a story of miracle after miracle after miracle.”

For now, that will have to stand as their reunion. Richard stayed with the Libyan family for a couple of weeks. He’d lost 80 pounds, so much that he barely recognized himself when he looked in a mirror.

He is still working to get contracts in Libya – instead of working with an arm of the Gadhafi regime, he’s working with the transitional government. He says he was inspired by the rebel uprising, by the way that untrained civilians rose up and defeated a brutal regime, and he wants to help in the rebuilding.

“I really wanted to come home,” he said. “I wanted to see my wife and kids, but they understand. There’s a real need here.”

Katie said she understands what he’s doing. “Do I want him home?” she said. “I wanted him here six months ago, seven months ago. But can I tell you something? I totally support him in his decisions.”

Despite the hardship of the past six months, the Peterses seem exhilarated. Thrilled. Joyous about what they see as the hand of God at every turn.

“Richard and I did a study on the book of Job last year,” Katie said – then laughs.

A lot of people forget that the story of Job has a happy ending: “And the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends; also, the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.”

The Peterses say that’s how they feel.

“I came out of it stronger than I went in there,” Richard said. “That’s the power of the Lord. All my strength came from Him.”

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.


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