An American woman kidnapped in and held for five years said she and her Canadian husband did all they could to make captivity as fun as possible for their three children, concocting games out of garbage and teaching their eldest son British history to diminish his fears around beheadings.
“We tried to make it fun for them, as best we could,” Caitlan Coleman, 31, “We would just teach them to use things like bottle caps, or bits of cardboard – garbage essentially – but what we could find to play with, tell them these are toys, we can make a game with this.”
Canadian American family rescued after five years as captives in Afghanistan
Coleman, her husband Joshua Boyle, 34, and their children after after in 2012 while traveling through a mountainous region of Afghanistan. At the time, Coleman was more than six months pregnant.
For the next five years they were shuffled between locations and held in what Coleman described as “very poor” conditions. “It was very dirty, unsanitary conditions. We were often underground.”
The couple tried their best to educate their children, teaching their eldest son, Najaeshi Jonah, four, the alphabet, constellations and geopolitics.
They also sought to ease the fear that permeated their lives, worried about the toll it would take on their eldest child. “Obviously with people like this, the idea of a beheading is always on the table – so he certainly knew that this type of thing could happen to his family,” said Coleman.
They turned to British history, teaching him about and “So he had great fun pretending to be Oliver Cromwell chasing Charles I around and trying to behead him because he wouldn’t sign the paperwork, wouldn’t sign the laws,” she said. “So we made it a game so that he wasn’t afraid.”
They were not able to completely shield their children from the armed guards who watched over them, however.
“At times they could be very violent, even sometimes with the children,” said Coleman. “Some of the guards actually actively hated children and would somewhat target Najaeshi, try to come up with reasons to hit him, either with a stick or otherwise, claiming that he was making problems, he was being too loud.”
When Coleman would intervene, she would also be beaten. According to her husband, one incident left her with a broken cheekbone, while another time she broke three fingers after punching a guard.
Their eldest child was also present when Coleman was sexually assaulted by two guards. The assault took place sometime after 2014, following what Coleman described as a forced abortion by guards who had put something in her food.
After it was discovered that the couple had been writing messages in the hope of finding help, guards had entered the cell and forcefully removed her husband. “One of the guards threw me down on the ground, hitting me and shouting, ‘I will kill you, I will kill you.’ And that’s when the assault happened. It was with two men and there was a third at the door,” she told the broadcaster. “Afterwards the animals wouldn’t even give me back my clothes.”
The couple said they were speaking out now in hopes of getting justice. “Our focus is on trying to hold accountable those who have committed grave human rights violations against us and against others,” Boyle told ABC. “I lost a daughter. That was more of a crushing blow to me than the years. What they did was a crime against humanity by international law.”
The couple went on to hide two pregnancies from the guards, with Boyle delivering both children in the dark, guided only by a flashlight clenched between his teeth.
Throughout the years-long ordeal, Coleman said she had never given up hope. Instead she focused on her children and how to give them the best lives possible under the circumstances.
“What made me the saddest was that I didn’t have an opportunity to show my children the types of things that I grew up with, playgrounds or zoos,” she said. “My wish for them now is that they never have to face fear in their lives again, that they can heal from this and grow to be strong, to be good, to have enough fun to make up for the years of trauma that they’ve had to endure.”