A Redmond family is relieved this week to have their daughter and her boyfriend home after the couple was detained for eight days in Malaysia.
Samantha Henry, 18, and her boyfriend, Will Lucas, 22, were at the end of a six-week trip through Thailand and Malaysia July 29 when they were stopped at a Malaysian airport because their passports were not stamped when they arrived in the country from Thailand.
“It’s a parent’s worst nightmare,” said Aaron Henry, Samanatha’s father.
Aaron Henry didn’t hear from his daughter for two days after her scheduled flight. He called the airline company and discovered his daughter and her boyfriend never boarded the plane.
But the airline could not tell Henry where the young couple was. He started to panic.
He contacted the U.S. Embassy in Malaysia, Malaysian police, Interpol, the FBI and even hostels where he knew his daughter had stayed. No one could give Henry a straight answer.
A Redmond police officer helped Henry by checking credit card and phone records to see if there was any recent activity. Eventually, Henry reached an immigration officer in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, who confirmed his daughter and her boyfriend were being kept in a detention center. Henry then hired a lawyer and contacted U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, who has helped Oregon families in similar situations.
“If it wasn’t for this attorney, and if it wasn’t for Jeff Merkley, she would still be in there,” Henry said. “Who knows where she would be.”
Merkley said he heard about the ordeal Aug. 2 and reached out to the U.S. ambassador for Malaysia. He also wrote a detailed letter and sent it to the Malaysian embassy. He pressured every U.S. State Department and embassy official he could.
“Everyone was scrabbling to make every connection we could because you never know what avenue of conversation might trigger something to happen,” Merkley said. “And maybe it was a combination of all of these things that helped make a difference.”
During the eight days his daughter was in a dentition cell, Henry had two brief conversations with her on the phone. She described the deplorable conditions of the 4-foot-by-6-foot cell and expressed how scared she was to be there.
“If you could do a hug over the phone, you would,” Henry said.
The travel to Malaysia and Thailand was supposed to be a trip of a lifetime for the couple. It was a humanitarian trip, and most of it was spent visiting orphanages, helping local families and volunteering with a sustainability project.
Lucas, of Bend, who attends Portland State University, had done similar trips in the past. For Samantha Henry, it was an adventure before she starts studying law at Willamette University in the fall.
“It was something she always wanted to do,” her father said. “This was her big thing before she went to college.”
On one of the last days of their trip, the couple took a tour bus from Malaysia into Thailand. On their way back into Malaysia, the border official never stamped their passports and waved them through.
The couple had no idea they did anything wrong by not insisting on getting a stamp. But in the airport, they were detained and accused of an immigration violation for not having an appropriate stamp.
“This was a really bad accident, and I think they learned from it,” Aaron Henry said.
Henry hopes the experience does not diminish his daughter’s love of travel. Friends have told Henry they would have never let their children go on a trip like that. But Henry said he doesn’t have any regrets in encouraging his daughter to go.
“You have to let you kids grow,” he said. “It could have been so much worse.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7820, email@example.com