Liverpool attacker Luis Diaz and his family endured a horrible two weeks towards the end of 2023 as his mother and father were kidnapped in his native Colombia.
Both parents have been returned safely to civilian life without any major injuries, albeit at different times. This will be of immense relief to Diaz and everyone in his life after some tireless campaigning in public and private to get his father freed.
In the meantime, he has still managed to continue playing and scoring for Liverpool, showing incredible mental strength at a time when nobody would have begrudged him stepping away from the action.
Here is the timeline of how the events unfolded, leading up to the release of Luis Manuel Diaz on Thursday afternoon.
Who kidnapped Luis Diaz's parents?
A long 12 days before his release, Luis Manuel Diaz and Cilenis Marulanda were kidnapped in Colombia by a left-wing guerrilla group called Ejercito de Liberation Nacional (ELN).
This group has been in conflict with the Colombian government but a six-month ceasefire was reached in August, with the country trying to move away from a military-focused approach to armed groups such as the ELN who have been a major player in the civil conflict that has killed more than 450,000 people over the last 60 years.
There are still other people being held by the ELN as they seek to gain negotiating power over the Colombian government. The head of ELN actually admitted that the kidnapping of Manuel Diaz was a 'mistake'.
Timeline of Luis Diaz's parents' kidnapping
28 October - Kidnapping takes place
On Saturday 28 October, Luis Manuel Diaz and Cilenis Marulanda were at a Petrol station in their hometown of Barrancas in the north-east of Colombia. This is the town where Diaz was born and his parents have chosen to remain there.
They were reportedly taken by four armed men on motorcycles, though the details of exactly how the crime was carried out are blurry. Some say they stole the family's car, but others report motorcycles were taken from nearby civilians.
When this news came through, Liverpool and Diaz were preparing for the Premier League match against Nottingham Forest and, understandably, the Colombian withdrew from the squad to be with his family.
29 October - Diaz's mother is released
It was reported Luis Diaz's mother was left in a car by the kidnappers, quickly rescued by police and taken to safety.
A 'major military search' was then launched to find the father. On that day, Liverpool beat Nottingham Forest 3-0 and Diogo Jota celebrated a goal by holding up a Luis Diaz shirt. Jurgen Klopp described the preparations for the game as 'a new experience I never needed.'
He also said: "How can you make a football game seem really important on a day like this?"
30 October - Search continues with reward announced
With his mother now safely returned, Luis Diaz was advised not to return to his homeland of Colombia for security reasons, so had to remain in England and await news of his father's plight.
Efforts to locate Manuel Diaz intensified, with general William Rene Salamanca announcing that a reward which converts to roughly £40,000 would be handed out for information leading to Manuel Diaz's rescue.
The Colombian army were taking the situation extremely seriously, using "two motorised platoons, unmanned aircraft, checkpoints, helicopters, a plane with specialised radar and 120 men".
31 October - Search stagnates as Diaz announces protest
The search was ongoing and there were fears that Luis Manuel may actually have already been moved across the border into Venezuela, which would have massively complicated the rescue effort.
The rescue effort seemed to be losing pace with no leads coming in and jungle and mountain ranges causing difficulty. Luis Diaz then spoke out on social media for the first time and planned a march in Barrancas to demand the release of his father.
Hundreds of people attended, including Diaz's grandfather and uncle.
1 November - Diaz back in training
With the search ongoing, Luis Diaz returned to training with Liverpool. He played no part in the Carabao Cup win against Bournemouth.
2 November - ELN named as kidnappers
At this stage, it was not public knowledge who had kidnapped Luis Manuel. The military will have known or at least suspected a guerrilla group was involved in the kidnapping, but it was then announced by the government the ELN was responsible.
With the authorities closing in on the ELN, they released a public statement saying Diaz would be released as soon as possible. ELN representative Juan Carlos Cuellar told a community meeting "he will be released as soon as possible," with the video clip then shared publicly.
3 November - Broken release promises
Despite hopes that the ELN would make good on their word and release Luis Manuel, this did not occur and was viewed as an escalation in the situation.
The Colombian president was on an official visit to the United States and publicly said: "The ELN has committed an act that contravenes the peace process. There is an expressed wish on the part of the ELN leaders to free him as soon as possible. But the hours are passing, and as this goes on in time, the situation in which Mr Diaz is in becomes very dangerous."
5 November - ELN label kidnapping 'a mistake'
The ELN began to backtrack on their position and it became clear a release would be in the offing soon. Their leader said it was a mistake to not free him.
"The retention of Luis Diaz's father by the Northern War Front was a mistake," said commander Antonio Garcia on his Telegram channel. "Lucho is a symbol of Colombia - that is how we in the ELN feel about him."
The search effort intensified yet again with this weakness shown, while Diaz played for Liverpool against Luton Town and scored a 95th-minute equaliser. He revealed a message on his shirt which translates to 'freedom for dad'.
He then wrote a long statement on social media: "This is not Luis Diaz the player speaking. Today I am the son of Luis Manuel Diaz. My dad is a hard-working family man. I ask the ELN for the prompt release of my father, and I ask international organisations to work together for his freedom.
"Every second, every minute, our anguish grows. My mother, my brothers and I are desperate, distressed and without words to describe what we are feeling. This suffering will only end when we have him back home.
"I beg you to release him immediately, respecting his integrity and ending this painful wait as soon as possible. In the name of love and compassion, we ask that you reconsider your actions and allow us to recover him.
"I thank Colombians and the international community for the support received, thank you for so many demonstrations of affection and solidarity in this difficult time that many families in my country find themselves living."
6 November - Mixed messaging over potential release
The ordeal looked to be ending with Semana reporting that the ELN had started preparations for the release of Luis Manuel. Those hopes were dashed when ELN commander Jose Manuel Martinez Quiroz said no release would take place until government forces left the area.
"The area is still militarised, they are carrying out flyovers, disembarking troops, broadcasting and offering rewards as part of an intense search operation. If operations continue in the area, they will delay the release and increase the risks," he said.
8 November - More reports hint at imminent release
Once again, reports suggested the release of Luis Manuel was imminent and being prepared for. Noticias Caracol reported that he would be released after the ELN spoke to United Nations and Catholic Church representatives.
The release was expected to happen near the border between Colombia and Venezuela. Luis Diaz, meanwhile, was on his way to Toulouse for Liverpool's Europa League game.
9 November - Luis Manuel is safely released
On the 12th day of this ordeal, Luis Manuel Diaz was freed and went into the immediate care of the Humanitarian Commission, made up of the Catholic Church and the UN. He was taken to a local church for medical checks and the family were on the way to see him.
"The Colombian Football Federation thanks the National Government, the Military Forces and the National Police, as well as all the institutions and officials that made the release of Luís Manuel Díaz, father of our player Luís Díaz, possible," a statement from the Colombia FA read.
"Football as a sporting discipline symbolizes talent, dedication, teamwork and the intrinsic values of human beings. In Colombia it must continue to be a benchmark for entertainment, healthy competition, unity and joy. Therefore, we insist on the need to maintain this activity, as well as those who are involved in it, in the sporting and administrative part and their families, outside of any scenario other than sports.
"Behind a ball, the dreams and illusions of boys and girls, young people, women, men and adult soccer players, their loved ones and an entire country roll. Football is passion in peace. Let no one ever think of attacking that reality again!"
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