Jeffrey Fowle returns to U.S. after nearly 6 months detained in North Korea
Jeffrey Fowle, an American detained in North Korea speaks to the Associated Press in Pyongyang, North Korea, Sept. 1, 2014. (AP / Wong Maye-E)
Andrew Welsh-Huggins, The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, October 22, 2014 6:20AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 22, 2014 3:23PM EDT
WEST CARROLLTON, Ohio -- An American arrested and held for nearly six months in North Korea for leaving a Bible at a nightclub returned home 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."
Tony Hall, a retired diplomat and congressman who used his connections with North Korean officials to discuss Fowle's case, said he was excited about Fowle's release.
A lot of people were involved, he said, but he declined to name any of the officials in Pyongyang to whom he reached out. He said he was never asked by either the U.S. or North Korea to go to Pyongyang on Fowle's behalf.
The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, along with China and Japan and envoys from Mongolia, which has relations with North Korea, were also involved, Hall said.
Hall said he got involved at the request of Fowle's family and attorney, as well as the State Department, which led the push for Fowle's release.
"So I spent a lot of time communicating and trying to use some of the relations I'd built up over the years," Hall told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Outside the family's home, 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, flanked by Fowle, his wife, Tatyana, and their three children.
Fowle arrived in North Korea on April 29 and was arrested in May for leaving a Bible at the nightclub, something Fowle acknowledged in interviews with the AP. 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.
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, Tepe said.
There was no immediate explanation for the release of Fowle, who was whisked to the U.S. territory of Guam, where doctors declared him in good health, before heading back to Ohio.
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."
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.
The United States has no diplomatic relations with North Korea and strongly warns American citizens against travelling to the country.
In Berlin, Secretary of State John Kerry said "there was no quid pro quo" for the release of Fowle.
The government welcomed Fowle's return.
"The release of all of these individuals is a top priority and something that the U.S. Government has long advocated for, both publicly and privately," said National Security Council spokesman Patrick Ventrell. "We have followed these cases closely in the White House."
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.