BOSTON – Jill Carroll, the journalist kidnapped in Iraq for 82 days, returned to America and a tearful reunion with her family, enveloping herself in long hugs with her parents and twin sister, and flashing the smile that made her a symbol of sympathy.
Carroll arrived Sunday in Boston on a commercial jet from Germany, wearing a dark blouse and jeans. The Christian Science Monitor reporter was accompanied on the flight by Monitor colleagues, who described her seven-hour flight back to the U.S.
"I finally feel like I am alive again. I feel so good," Carroll said. "To be able to step outside anytime, to feel the sun directly on your face — to see the whole sky. These are luxuries that we just don't appreciate every day."
Carroll was seized Jan. 7 in western Baghdad by gunmen who killed her Iraqi translator while the two were on the way to meet a Sunni Arab official. She has said her kidnappers confined her to a small, soundproof room with frosted, opaque windows. She was released Thursday.
On her flight, Carroll was touched to find a red rose on her dinner tray, the Monitor reported. Later, a flight attendant dropped off a copy of Friday's USA Today in which she saw her own face framed by a black head scarf. It was a photo of a giant poster that had been erected in Rome.
The 28-year-old American journalist stayed out of public view but reports on the Monitor's Web site, along with photos, showed a joyful reunion with her parents and sister.
"When Jill is ready, the Monitor will begin to tell her story and we will also hold a press conference where she will speak," editor Richard Bergenheim said in a statement.
A Monitor spokesman said Monday morning that Carroll was secluded with her family and had no immediate plans discuss her ordeal in public.
Carroll left the Ramstein Air Base in southwestern Germany on Saturday after arriving from Balad Air Base in Baghdad. She strongly disavowed statements she had made during her captivity and shortly after her release, saying she had been repeatedly threatened.
In a video recorded before she was freed and posted by her captors on an Islamist Web site, Carroll spoke out against the U.S. military presence. On Saturday, she said the recording was made under duress.
"During my last night in captivity, my captors forced me to participate in a propaganda video. They told me I would be released if I cooperated. I was living in a threatening environment, under their control, and wanted to go home alive. So I agreed," she said in a statement.
"Things that I was forced to say while captive are now being taken by some as an accurate reflection of my personal views. They are not. The people who kidnapped me and murdered Alan Enwiya are criminals, at best."
She also condemned her captors, although she did not address the war in Iraq. "I will not engage in polemics. But let me be clear: I abhor all who kidnap and murder civilians, and my captors are clearly guilty of both crimes," she said.
Carroll attracted a huge amount of sympathy during her ordeal, and a wide variety of groups in the Middle East, including the Islamic militant group Hamas, appealed for her release.
The kidnappers, calling themselves the Revenge Brigades, had demanded the release of all female detainees in Iraq by Feb. 26 or Carroll would be killed. U.S. officials released some female detainees at the time, but said it had nothing to do with the demands.
In the statement, Carroll also disavowed an interview she gave to the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni Arab organization in whose offices she was dropped off upon her release. She said the party had promised her the interview would not be aired "and broke their word."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was held prisoner for more than five years during the Vietnam War, said Carroll found herself in "a terrible, terrible position" and said Americans should view her taped statements critical of the U.S. military presence in Iraq in that context.
"We understand when you're held a captive in that situation that you do things under duress. God bless her, and we're glad she's home," McCain said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Carroll, a Michigan native who graduated in 1999 from the University of Massachusetts with a degree in journalism, was freelancing for the Monitor when she was kidnapped, and was hired about a week later.