Jill Carroll, the U.S. journalist held hostage for 82 days in Iraq, returned to the United States on Sunday aboard a commercial flight to Boston, saying “I finally feel like I am alive again.”
The 28-year-old was accompanied on the Lufthansa flight by a colleague from her employer, the Boston-based Christian Science Monitor, which posted a news story about her return on its Web site two hours after her flight landed. Carroll has been kept out of view of other reporters.
“I finally feel like I am alive again. I feel so good,” Carroll said, according to the newspaper. “To be able to step outside anytime, to feel the sun directly on your face ? to see the whole sky. These are luxuries that we just don’t appreciate every day.”
Carroll left the airport in a black limousine escorted by state police and arrived a short time later at the newspaper’s headquarters, where she was reunited with her parents and twin sister.
She was released Thursday after nearly three months in captivity. She was seized Jan. 7 in western Baghdad by gunmen who killed her Iraqi translator while the two were on the way to meet a Sunni Arab official in one of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods.
On her flight, Carroll was touched to find a red rose on her dinner tray, the Monitor reported. Later, a flight steward dropped off a copy of Friday’s USA Today in which she saw her own face framed by a black head scarf. It was a photo of a giant poster erected by supporters in Rome.
She was tickled to see pictures of her family and kissed the photo of her father, Jim Carroll. “He looks good,” she said, and ran her fingers over the photo of her mom, Mary Beth, the Monitor reported.
Photographs of the reunion with her family showed Carroll wrapped in emotional embraces. Editor Richard Bergenheim said colleagues are grateful she is home safe.
“When Jill is ready, the Monitor will begin to tell her story and we will also hold a press conference where she will speak. But we will not be making any further statements on Sunday and hope that the Carroll family’s privacy will be respected,” Bergenheim said in a statement.
Carroll left the Ramstein Air Base in southwestern Germany on Saturday after arriving from Balad Air Base in Baghdad. She strongly disavowed statements she had made during captivity in Iraq and shortly after her release, saying she had been repeatedly threatened.
In a video recorded before she was freed and posted by her captors on an Islamist Web site, Carroll spoke out against the U.S. military presence. On Saturday, she said the recording was made under duress.
“During my last night in captivity, my captors forced me to participate in a propaganda video. They told me I would be released if I cooperated. I was living in a threatening environment, under their control, and wanted to go home alive. So I agreed,” she said in a statement.
“Things that I was forced to say while captive are now being taken by some as an accurate reflection of my personal views. They are not.”
Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), R-Ariz., who was held prisoner for more than five years during the Vietnam War, said Carroll found herself in “a terrible, terrible position” and said Americans should view her taped statements critical of the U.S. military presence in Iraq in that context.
“We understand when you’re held a captive in that situation that you do things under duress. God bless her, and we’re glad she’s home,” McCain said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Carroll, who has studied Arabic, attracted a huge amount of sympathy during her ordeal, and a wide variety of groups in the Middle East, including the Islamic militant group Hamas, appealed for her release.
Aside from the short interview aired on Iraqi television upon her release, Carroll had not shown herself in public prior to a brief appearance Saturday.
The kidnappers, calling themselves the Revenge Brigades, had demanded the release of all female detainees in Iraq by Feb. 26 or Carroll would be killed. U.S. officials did release some female detainees at the time, but said it had nothing to do with the demands.
In the statement, Carroll also disavowed an interview she gave to the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni Arab organization in whose offices she was dropped off upon her release. She said the party had promised her the interview would not be aired “and broke their word.”
Carroll has said her kidnappers confined her to a small, soundproof room with frosted, opaque windows.