Viscaacuba James says she woke up with a start at 2 a.m. Monday to shouts in the hallway. She jumped out of bed and ran out of the room, she recalled in an interview Thursday, to find the man she broke up with two days earlier holding a gun in a gloved hand while wrestling with her 21-year-old nephew.
It was the start of an ordeal in which James, 33, her three young daughters and her two nephews — one age 21, the other under 18 — were held hostage at her Stafford Drive home. And then, authorities said, Jeremiah Rodriguez forced James into a car and sped off.
The ensuing manhunt ended Monday night in Gulfport, Mississippi, with the arrest of Rodriguez and the rescue of James.
“These stories never end well, that’s what scared me,” James said.
Rodriguez, 34, whose last known address is in New Orleans, is accused of kicking in the carport door to James’ home at 1836 Stafford Drive, off Perkins Road near Siegen Lane, gathering all six people in the house and herding them into the back bedroom.
James said Rodriguez had her tie up her children and nephews and place duct tape over their faces.
She thought Rodriguez, a man she had known for more than five years and dated off and on for more than two years, might do something stupid, so she pushed her fears down, trying to put on a calm, brave face not only for him, but for her daughters, ages 7, 11 and 15.
But when she got to placing the duct tape over the mouth of her 15-year-old, who suffers from chronic asthma, James placed only a small strip, leaving the teen room to breathe. That incensed Rodriguez, who grabbed the tape and wrapped it around the teen’s head.
He did not tie up James, leaving her free to go with him to get his car. James did as she was told, she said, because he had a gun, but she continued to stay calm.
“I never let him feel like I was threatened. I made him feel like I was on his side,” she said. “I wanted to get him out the house with these kids.”
A short time later, they returned in his car and he untied everyone, apologizing for what he did, but justifying it by saying he did not want them to call the police on him like they did before.
He was referring to a Jan. 3 incident in which one of James’ daughters called the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office to report Rodriguez punched James in the stomach.
Both James and Rodriguez told deputies he never touched her, but deputies arrested him based on the statements of two of her daughters who both said they saw him hit her. Rodriguez also was booked on possession of marijuana but was never charged with either crime by prosecutors because James stuck to her story that he never touched her.
James still sticks to that story. She said they were loud and argued a lot, but it never turned violent until he brought the Beretta .40-caliber handgun into her home early Monday morning.
She didn’t think the gun was loaded. She just thought he was waving it around to scare them.
“Even if I thought he was capable of it, not to us,” she said. “I didn’t imagine in a million years that he would do that.”
With the gun in hand after apologizing to James’ daughters and nephews, Rodriguez gathered all electronic devices in the house — cellphones, laptop computers and iPads — so they could not alert law enforcement.
But James, still keeping her composure, convinced him to leave one cellphone behind so her daughters could call someone to get them. Rodriguez was still concerned the girls would call the police, but James said she told the girls, in front of Rodriguez, not to alert authorities because James herself might get hurt.
James followed Rodriguez out of the house, but she stopped to lock the bottom lock on her door. Unbeknownst to Rodriguez, before locking the door, she opened it slightly and whispered to her daughters to call the police.
They did just that.
Sheriff’s deputies arrived at the home about noon and the FBI was brought into the fold at 12:15 p.m. The license plate of the 2001 Chrysler Concorde that Rodriguez was driving was put into the State Police Fusion Center’s Interstate License Plate Recognition System.
James said Rodriguez made no attempts to hurt her during the car ride. He said he just wanted to talk because she had not answered his calls since Saturday.
“It was about getting away at that point,” she said.
James kept her eyes open for any chance to escape but never got the opportunity.
“I can’t say that I was really afraid,” she said. “I was more mad than afraid because of how he handled the situation.”
She didn’t worry about her safety until she got a call from her cousin at 5 p.m. saying they were on the news. Rodriguez began getting nervous, mumbling that kidnapping her was stupid.
But what really scared James was when he began saying he was not going back to jail. She calmed him down and they pulled into a RaceWay gas station off U.S. 49 in Gulfport to talk, buy cigarettes and fill up the Concorde.
What neither of them knew was by that time, authorities determined they were in the Gulfport area and were actively searching for them after T-Mobile conducted an emergency ping of Rodriquez’s cell phone that showed them in Gulfport.
At the gas station, she convinced him it would be best for everyone if he brought her home. But he had to ditch the gun first, she said.
As they were sitting in the car, James leaned back and put her feet on the dashboard, feeling more comfortable about her situation, when she noticed a black SUV with tinted windows pull into the gas station parking lot. Rodriguez had not seen them but soon noticed James was looking at something.
She also saw officers coming from around the gas station — something Rodriguez did not realize until the car was surrounded by armed officers aiming at him.
The nightmare was over.
Agents later told James that her leaning back in the passenger’s seat was perfect for them because they were prepared to take him out from the passenger’s side of the car if Rodriguez moved for the handgun.
Rodriguez is still in a cell at the Harrison County Adult Detention Center, waiting to be extradited to Baton Rouge for prosecution on state counts of second-degree kidnapping, aggravated burglary and false imprisonment as well as federal counts of kidnapping, using a firearm in a violent crime and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
In 2001, Rodriguez pleaded guilty to second-degree kidnapping and armed robbery in Jefferson Parish and was sentenced to 10 years hard labor.
James said she knew about the conviction but did not know he had kidnapped a woman. She did not know Rodriguez’s relationship with the victim.
Since she has returned home, James has kept herself busy, not wanting to dwell on the 16-hour ordeal.
“I just have not had time to take it all in,” James said in a telephone interview Thursday. “I’m sure that’s not something I’m going to get over any time soon. … I’m mad and hurt.”
But she said she also feels blessed “because I know that these stories do not end well.”
She said her children and family are still shaken up over her kidnapping, especially her mother.
“That did a lot to her,” James said. “They didn’t expect to see me again.”
Follow Ryan Broussard on Twitter, @ryanmbroussard.