ITAMARAJU, BRAZIL—Four days after criminal organization Comando Vermelho seized control of the Novo Mundo Resort, activities director Janet Puchesy, 28, continues to make the most of the tense situation, bringing fun and creativity to the storage room where she and her fellow survivors are trapped, the hostage reported Monday.
"Okay, gang, who wants to have a sing-along?" Puchesy said quietly, hoping to avoid being added to the pile of nearly 30 resort guests and employees brutally slain so far during the takeover. "Does anyone know 'Jesus Loves Me'? Okay, good, but remember to keep it down so they don't get angry and club one of us unconscious again. Okay? Okay. Now, who wants to lead it off?"
Puchesy, a Boston native, has made a living as the upscale coastal resort's activities director since separating from her husband in May 2003. Little is known about this faction of the Comando Vermelho, other than that it is well-armed and demanding the sum of $500,000 from local government authorities for the return of the 44 remaining prisoners.
Until the government complies, Puchesy will continue to use her extensive knowledge of arts and crafts to raise the spirits of her fellow hostages. Today, Puchesy taught fellow captives how to weave friendship bracelets using locks of hair cut from the heads of the corpses stacked at the back of the room.
"Okay, Gilberto, that's looking very nice—much better than your last one," Puchesy said, as she walked around the room checking on the progress of those coherent enough to join in the activity. "Margaret, you'll need to stop your hands from shaking… Emilio, you have pretty steady hands. Maybe you could help Margaret out."
Continued Puchesy: "When we're done with our bracelets, we should put our noggins together and brainstorm a way to cover up the stench coming from the bodies. Remember, there are no bad ideas."
Puchesy admitted that she has had a hard time keeping some of the hostages focused on group activities, especially when gunmen arrive with food or pull one of the women out of the room, only to drag her back in, nearly catatonic, hours later.
"Okay, everyone, relax—it was only a food drop-off this time, and we should be happy about that," Puchesy said. "Let's have some smiles instead of crying. Everyone's still here. So, whose turn is it to eat? Hands up if you ate yesterday. Some of us who ate yesterday aren't raising our hands. Stan? Thank you! That wasn't so hard, now, was it?"
While she said she believes that it's important to keep the group unified, Puchesy tries to facilitate closer ties by breaking detainees into smaller groups based on common interests, such as crafting weapons to fight the captors, praying, or curling up against the wall while staring off into space.
"I'll be over there to check out the progress on your conch-shell knife in a second, but it's my turn to lead charades," Puchesy said. "Now, can I remind everyone not to make the answers so grim this time? If I see one more person trying to act out 'living hell' by pointing around the room, I swear we'll go back to playing 10-word story."
Puchesy said she attributes her survival to her positive attitude, as well as to the fact that she was teaching a pottery class at the time of the attack, and was therefore not wearing her work uniform and lanyard.
"I was super-duper lucky that I was dressed in street clothes, since our captors cut the throats of all the resort employees," Puchesy said. "But then again, my Mom always said that luck doesn't just happen. You have to make it happen. Well, I'm just happy to be alive and helping people—knock on wood!"
Even in the face of the tragedy, Puchesy said she intends to keep doing what she does best, by scheduling and overseeing guests' activities, even if she no longer has access to her supplies.
"Helping people forget their troubles and have a good time is what I was trained to do," Puchesy said. "I only wish we had more room to do our morning stretches, and that I had my clipboard so I wouldn't need to scratch out the days' events on the wall with a rock."