The four Colombian children who survived 40 days alone in the Amazon jungle after their plane went down were fleeing from a violent armed group that was recruiting children in their home region, according to family.
Manuel Ranoque, the father of the two younger siblings, told The New York Times he and his wife feared the group would soon force their children to join and decided that it was best for them to flee.
“I was very scared the children would be recruited,” Ranoque told the paper by phone, adding that the armed groups in the country recruit children as young as 2.
The siblings, aged 13, 9, 4 and 1, were flying with their mother, the pilot and another adult from the Amazonian village of Araracuara to the town of San Jose del Guaviare when the Cessna single-engine propeller plane crashed May 1. The bodies of the three adults were found at the crash site 16 days later.
The pilot had declared an emergency due to engine failure before the crash.
In the days following their rescue, new details have been emerging about how the siblings survived. Led by 13-year-old Lesly Jacobombaire Mucutuy, the children ate fruit and munched on seeds found in the jungle along with cassava flour that they took from the plane.
The children had also begun telling family how they hid in tree trunks to protect themselves from snakes, animals and mosquitoes creeping in the jungle.
As Ranoque tells how his children were fleeing for their lives, other family members have begun a custody fight for the siblings.
Astrid Cáceres, head of the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare, said in an interview with BLU radio that a caseworker was assigned to the children at the request of their maternal grandparents, who are vying for custody with Ranoque.
On Sunday, grandfather Narciso Mucutuy accused Ranoque of beating his daughter, Magdalena Mucuty, telling reporters the children would hide in the forest when fighting broke out.
Ranoque acknowledged to reporters that the situation at home had been tense, calling it a private family matter and not “gossip for the world.” When asked whether he had ever attacked his wife, Ranoque said, “Verbally, sometimes, yes. Physically, very little. We had more verbal fights.”
Ranoque said he has not been allowed to see the two oldest children at the hospital, where all the children are receiving treatment and are expected to remain for at least two weeks.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.