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'Missing' Goucher student unharmed; Ghana kidnap report a phone scheme, FBI says


A Goucher College sophomore reported missing over the weekend in the West African nation of Ghana turned up yesterday unharmed and oblivious that anyone was worried about her, a spokeswoman for the FBI said.

Magda Donaldson, 19, a Chevy Chase resident, was reported missing early Friday morning, two days after arriving in the capital city of Accra to participate in a study abroad program. Her parents thought she had been kidnapped until they heard yesterday afternoon that she was fine.

"It's been a very, very long and very, very frightful period of time," her mother, Molla Donaldson, said yesterday. "She's fine. She's not been harmed. I can't tell you how relieved we are."

Donaldson said she spoke to her daughter last night and said Magda Donaldson was "horrified" to hear her parents had been worried for two days.

Special agent Susan E. Lloyd, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Washington, said that Magda Donaldson was not kidnapped and characterized the incident as a "phone scam."

"Somebody apparently got into her personal papers and jotted down or took her information about her parents' residence and phone number," Lloyd said. They then called Donaldson's parents to report that she had been kidnapped and demand ransom money. When Donaldson arrived at the airport in Accra yesterday to meet her classmates as scheduled, everyone was surprised to see her.

No one was more surprised than Donaldson herself. "She was unaware of the fact that people were looking for her," Lloyd said.

Thursday, Magda Donaldson left a message on her parents' answering machine saying that she was fine and having a good time, said Molla Donaldson, a research analyst. The young woman later sent an e-mail to her mother at work.

At 4: 40 a.m. Friday, Gerald and Molla Donaldson received a phone call from two men who said Magda had been kidnapped and they needed money to ensure her safe return. Molla Donaldson said the two men made repeated calls to their house demanding money, first $800 and later $1,000. Donaldson asked to speak to her daughter, and one of the men told her he would have Magda Donaldson call back, but she didn't.

Finally, Donaldson told the callers: "I don't want to hear from you again until I've heard from my daughter that she's all right." Donaldson, who would not say whether or not the family wired money, said the man mumbled a response and hung up.

Lloyd said the FBI is no longer investigating the case. Donaldson said from what she knows, "it was some kind of scam that was developed at a telecommunications center."

Debra Rubino, executive director for communications at Goucher College, said Magda Donaldson has an interest in international studies and spent the fall term studying in South Africa. She said a number of reporters called over the weekend.

"Luckily, we were able to notify all of them that she's fine," Rubino said.

Pub Date: 2/01/99

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