WEST CARROLLTON, Ohio (AP) — An American arrested and held for nearly six months in North Korea for leaving a Bible at a nightclub returned home to Ohio on Wednesday to tears of joy and hugs from his wife and surprised children.
A plane carrying Jeffrey Fowle landed Wednesday morning at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, where he was reunited with his family.
Moments after Fowle, carrying two bags, stepped off a plane at the base just after 6:30 a.m., his three children and wife ran from a nearby airplane hangar and shared hugs.
Base Col. John Devillier said Fowle had a tearful reunion, and that Fowle was happy and seemed thrilled to be back in the U.S.
“We had a great reunion for an American citizen coming home,” he said.
Devillier said Fowle’s family hadn’t told the children why they were being brought to the base and that it was a surprise for them to see their father walk off the plane.
“The reaction from his children was priceless,” Devillier said. “They hadn’t seen their dad in some time. The expectation would be that they would get teary eyed and they did, and I did, too. It’s great to welcome him home.”
Standing beside Fowle, his wife and their three children outside the family’s home in rural southwest Ohio later Wednesday, family attorney Timothy Tepe said Fowle had been treated well by the North Korean government and needed time to adjust to life at home.
“The past 24 hours have been a whirlwind for Jeff and his family. Jeff needs some time right now to get adjusted to his life at home,” Tepe said.
The news of Fowle’s return came about six months after he was taken into custody. Fowle said in interviews with The Associated Press that he left a Bible at a nightclub. Christian evangelism is considered a crime in North Korea.
He had been awaiting trial — the only one of three Americans held by Pyongyang who had not been convicted of charges.
The two others were each sentenced to years in North Korean prisons after court trials that lasted no more than 90 minutes. The three Americans entered North Korea separately.
Tepe said the Fowle family, despite their joy, is mindful that two other Americans continue to be detained by North Korea and they understand the disappointment their families are experiencing.
Fowle was flown out of North Korea on a U.S. military jet that was spotted at Pyongyang’s international airport Tuesday by two Associated Press journalists. There was no immediate explanation for the release of Fowle, who was whisked to the U.S. territory of Guam before heading back to his wife and three children in Ohio.
State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Tuesday that Fowle was seen by doctors and appeared to be in good medical health. She declined to give more details about his release except to thank the government of Sweden, which has an embassy in Pyongyang, for its “tireless efforts.”
Harf would not say whether any American officials had intervened directly with the North Koreans.
Relations between Washington and Pyongyang, never warm, are at a particularly low point, and the U.S. has sought unsuccessfully for months to send a high-level representative to North Korea to negotiate acquittals for all three men.
In Berlin, Secretary of State John Kerry said “there was no quid pro quo” for the release of Fowle.
“We are very concerned about the remaining American citizens who are in North Korea, and we have great hopes that North Korea will see the benefit of releasing them also as soon as possible,” Kerry told reporters.
“We’re in constant touch with their families, we’re working on their release, we’ve talked to the Chinese and others, and we have a high focus on it,” he said.
The United States has no diplomatic relations with North Korea and strongly warns American citizens against traveling to the country.
A report released by the Korean Central News Agency on Wednesday said Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, took “a special measure” by releasing Fowle, who was referred to as a “U.S. criminal.” The report said Kim took “into consideration the repeated requests of U.S. President Barack Obama.”
Fowle arrived there on April 29 and was arrested in May for leaving a Bible at the nightclub.
The city where Fowle worked as a streets department employee terminated his employment last month.
“We’re delighted to hear the news and look forward to him returning to the community and his family,” David Hicks, Moraine’s city manager, said Tuesday.
The Dayton Daily News reported last month that the city said Fowle’s termination included $70,000 in severance pay and the ability to be reinstated.
Associated Press writers Dan Sewell in Cincinnati and Lara Jakes in Washington, Associated Press journalists Eric Talmadge and Maye-E Wong in Pyongyang, North Korea, and Deb Riechmann and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.