BOSTON – Phones began ringing at dawn Thursday as family and friends of Jill Carroll excitedly spread the news that the Christian Science Monitor freelance reporter was finally free after three months of captivity in Iraq.
"Obviously we are thrilled and relieved that she has been released," Carroll's father, Jim, said on the porch of his home in Chapel Hill, N.C.
"We want to thank all that have supported and prayed for her," he said. "We want to especially thank The Christian Science Monitor who did so much work to keep her image alive in Iraq."
At his daughter's alma mater, the University of Massachusetts, her release was the talk of the campus as the faculty arrived.
"It's a tremendous day. We've been hoping for this day for three months," said Norm Sims, Jill Carroll's former journalism professor. "The journalism faculty has been calling each other on the phone. A lot of us were Jill's friends and professors. This is tremendous news."
Carroll, 28, had grown up in Ann Arbor, Mich., and graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in journalism. She went to the Middle East in 2002 after being laid off from a newspaper job, fulfilling a long-held dream of covering a war.
On Jan. 7, while going to interview Sunni Arab politician Adnan al-Dulaimi, Carroll was kidnapped in Baghdad's western Adil neighborhood. Her translator was killed in the attack about 300 yards from al-Dulaimi's office.
Her captors, calling themselves the Revenge Brigades, demanded the release of all women detainees in Iraq by Feb. 26 and said Carroll would be killed if that didn't happen. The date came and went with no word about her welfare.
On Thursday, she was finally free. Carroll was handed over to the Iraqi Islamic Party office in Amiriya, western Baghdad, by an unknown group and then turned over to the Americans.
In a brief interview after her release, Carroll told Baghdad television she was treated well but doesn't know why she was kidnapped.
"I'm just happy to be free," she said. "I want to be with my family."
Her release came a day after her sister pleaded for her freedom on Arab television. Katie Carroll noted there had been no word from her captors in nearly two months. "I've been living a nightmare, worrying if she is hurt or ill," she said.
Hours later, that nightmare came to an end.
"Our hearts are full. We are elated by Jill's safe release," her family said in a statement released by the editor of The Christian Science Monitor, Richard Bergenheim.
"We would like to thank all of the generous people around the world who worked officially or unofficially — especially those who took personal risk — to gain Jill's release. We're also very grateful for the support of the Iraqi people who've shown the world a deep compassion for Jill's situation."
Bergenheim, speaking outside the newspaper's Boston headquarters, said no money had been exchanged for Carroll's release.
"We simply know she was dropped off at the Iraqi Islamic party headquarters," he said.
He said Carroll would soon learn that people of all faiths worldwide had been praying for her.
"The chorus of Muslim leaders condemning this kidnapping has been louder and louder than has been heard for some time," Bergenheim said.
In Michigan, David Hutchinson woke up his 16-year-old daughter, Marisa, as soon as heard the news. His family had watched Carroll grow up across the street from their Ann Arbor home, where Carroll baby-sat for Marisa, and they had corresponded with her via e-mail after she moved to Iraq.
"We always believed that she'd figure out a way to get herself free," David Hutchinson said. "She's just really smart and really dedicated. Everything I know about Iraq, I learned about reading everything she wrote."
Carroll's father said Thursday morning that he was waiting to learn more about what was happening in Iraq before making travel plans, but he was looking forward to finally seeing his daughter free.