Former Hostage Jesse Turner Receives Homecoming Celebration in Idaho
BOISE, Idaho (AP) _ Jesse Turner, held captive in the Middle East for 4 1/2 years, returned to his hometown with his family on Friday, still striving to maintain privacy in the most public of homecomings.
″Boise, Idaho, your son, Jon Turner, is home,″ Mayor Dirk Kempthorne told a boistrous crowd that gathered outisde the Statehouse in the wind and rain to welcome Turner.
″It’s cold,″ Turner told the crowd. ″So, all I want to say is thank you. Thanks for everything.″
The 44-year-old mathematics professor stood with his Lebanese-born wife, Badr, and their 4-year-old daughter, Joanne. After they arrived in Boise shortly after 11 p.m., they were whisked to the homecoming celebration in a limousine.
When reporters asked Turner how he felt, he just shrugged and smiled.
Earlier in the day, Turner and his family landed at O’Hare International Airport on a flight from Frankfurt, Germany.
″He smoked a pack of cigarettes, drank a couple beers and ate a bunch of food,″ said Ray Hipp, who sat in front of the Turners during the flight.
Hipp said that during the flight he told Turner, ″Welcome to America,″ and that Turner did not respond. ″He was very quiet,″ said Hipp, of Chicago.
Because Turner had requested privacy, he and his family were taken from the United Airlines flight to an undisclosed location to await their evening flight home to Boise, spokesman Joe Hopkins said.
Hours later, the Turners boarded the United flight to Boise. They were driven to the plane in a van, while reporters were kept inside the terminal.
″The community is anxious to give a heartfelt welcome home,″ Boise spokesman Brian Whitlock said before Turner and his family arrived. Turner grew up and went to school in Boise, where his mother and stepfather still live.
Workers transformed the steps of the Statehouse into a huge reception area, where Gov. Cecil D. Andrus and Mayor Dirk Kempthorne offered brief remarks before a program of music, fireworks and the ringing of church bells.
″We know it’s late,″ Gov. Cecil Andrus said. ″But it’ll be the dawn of a new day of freedom, at home.
″Jon Turner for nearly five years fought a war of isolation against hatred and tyranny, and he won,″ Andrus said. ″Today we celebrate his courage and uncommonn inner strength. His is a story of the victory of the human spirit and the power of faith, and it is a story that inspires us all.″
After Turner’s release Tuesday, he was taken to the U.S. Air Force hospital in Wiesbaden, Germany, for a round of medical tests and State Department debriefings before being put on his way home to Idaho.
Turner made no comments to reporters on his departure from Wiesbaden, before leaving Frankfurt, or on his arrival in Chicago.
He wore a new brown jacket, smiled and looked relaxed early Friday when he left on the flight from Frankfurt to Chicago. His wife carried their daughter, whom Turner saw for the first time Wednesday at the hospital in Wiesbaden.
Joanne was born after Turner was kidnapped in Beirut on Jan. 24, 1987. He had been held captive by Shiite Moslem kidnappers in Lebanon
The joyous homecoming to America was soured by a run-in between the State Department and Turner’s parents.
″I thought this would be a wonderful time, but it hasn’t been,″ his mother, Estelle Ronneburg, said Friday after she and her husband - Turner’s stepfather, Eugene Ronneburg - returned home early from Germany.
The parents left Germany abruptly Thursday after State Department officials criticized Eugene Ronneburg for having videotaped Turner’s reunion with his family and then allowing CBS television to broadcast it.
After the videotape was aired, State Department officials banned Ronneburg from the hospital in Wiesbaden and the U.S.-government owned hotel where the Turner family was staying.
″One of the most basic elements of U.S. concern for any freed hostage is his or her privacy. Yesterday Mr. Ronneburg violated that policy,″ said State Department spokesman Joe Reap.
Mrs. Ronneburg said her son was ″upset,″ but didn’t know if it was with the State Department or his parents.
U.S. sources said Turner had asked for privacy and his stepfather had known of the request. Ronneburg didn’t reveal he had an arrangement with U.S. television, and implied he was recording the reunion for home use, said one of the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.