BOSTON — An American held captive for seven months in North Korea stepped off a plane in his hometown Friday, looking thin but joyful as he hugged the former US president who had helped win his release and family and friends surrounded him in a group embrace.
Aijalon Gomes was accompanied by former US President Jimmy Carter, who had flown to Pyongyang to negotiate his freedom. The 31-year-old, who had been teaching English in South Korea, was imprisoned and sentenced to eight years' hard labor for crossing into the North from China on Jan. 25 for unknown reasons.
North Korea's state-run news agency reported last month that Gomes had attempted suicide, leading his family to ask for his release on humanitarian grounds. North Korea said this week it would release Gomes to Carter if the former president came to get him.
Gomes hugged Carter and then his mother before his loved ones encircled him, praying and waving their hands skyward while two people held a banner behind them that read: "Welcome home. Salvation is ours."
In a statement released earlier Friday, the family thanked Carter and said it felt blessed to welcome Gomes home after what it called "a long, dark and difficult period."