HEBRON, Conn. – George Gonsalves was mowing his lawn Wednesday afternoon when he got the news that that his son had been freed after five years as a hostage of leftist rebels in Colombia.
"I didn't know how to stop my lawnmower," Gonsalves said. "I was shocked. I couldn't believe it."
Marc Gonsalves and two other Northrop Grumman Corp. contractors, were taken hostage by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in February 2003, when their plane went down in rebel-held jungle.
Gonsalves, Tom Howes and Keith Stansell, had been the longest-held American hostages in the world.
It was about 3:30 p.m. when an excited neighbor ran into George Gonsalves' yard to relay the news that the Colombian military had pulled off a successful rescue mission that freed all three men and former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.
Gonsalves later got a phone call from the FBI confirming that his son was free and on his way to a military hospital in Texas. He called it, "great, great, great" news.
"It's been a real rough ride," he said. "I've got to give him a big hug when I see him."
Marc Gonsalves graduated from RHAM High School in Hebron. His mother, Jo Rosano, lives in Bristol. She did not return telephone messages seeking comment, and was not home when a reporter knocked at her door Wednesday.
Marc Gonsalves and his co-workers were on a drug surveillance mission over Caqueta, a rebel stronghold and cocaine-producing region in Colombia's southern jungle, when their plane crashed on Feb. 13, 2003.
Gonsalves, Howes, and Stansell, were captured almost immediately. Officials say two other men on the mission, an American and a Colombian, were killed by the rebels.
George Gonsalves said the families had been frustrated over the years by a lack of information about what the U.S. and Colombian governments were doing to secure the men's release.
"We didn't know what the heck was going on," he said. "I'm getting information from you guys."
The family reunion is expected to be emotional, he said, especially for Marc Gonsalves' three children, who are now teenagers.
"Think about your children if they don't see you for a week a weekend or a month," he said "It's been a hard haul for them."
. "It's five years pulled out of your life," he said. "We hope and we felt confident that someday he would be released. We just didn't think it would be today."