PHILADELPHIA – An American aid worker rescued by Navy SEALs in Somalia was a student leader at her Christian grade school, attended a religious college in suburban Philadelphia and "fell in love with Africa" while doing student teaching in Nairobi.
The Rev. Don Meyer, president of Valley Forge Christian College, said everyone at the small school in suburban Philadelphia is thankful their prayers have been answered with word that 2007 graduate Jessica Buchanan, 32, was rescued along with Poul Hagen Thisted, a 60-year-old Dane. The two were working with a demining unit when gunmen kidnapped them in October.
"Ever since Jessica was captured, we all as a community have been praying for her safety and for her safe release," Meyer said in a telephone interview. "The priority is just how grateful we are that she is safe."
The SEALs parachuted down in the early morning darkness Wednesday, killing nine kidnappers and freeing Buchanan and Hagen.
President Barack Obama ordered the rescue after intelligence indicated Buchanan's health was failing, according to a senior administration official who was not authorized to speak publicly. A Danish Refugee Council official said Buchanan was "not that ill" but needed medicine.
The family reported that her health is good, Meyer said. Relatives did not immediately comment.
The family had asked people at the school to keep quiet about the case while authorities tried to negotiate Buchanan's release, Meyer said. Now, he said, the school wants to offer its "deep gratitude" to the people who worked to free her.
Buchanan was an elementary education major at Valley Forge Christian, which has about 1,100 students, and had done a student teaching stint at Rosslyn Academy in Nairobi as part of her course work, Meyer said.
"She fell in love with Africa," he said. "She could hardly talk about Africa without tears in her eyes."
Minutes after giving his State of the Union address to Congress, Obama was on the phone with Buchanan's father to tell him his daughter was safe.
"Her life story is a model of what we prepare our students to do," Meyer said. "Now, the priority, though, is that she be joined with her family. ... It's thrilling beyond words."
Before Buchanan's family moved from Ohio years ago, she attended the now-closed Ridgeville Christian School, a preschool-through-12th-grade campus in Springboro, north of Cincinnati.
There, she was a student leader very involved in activities and sports, including basketball and volleyball, said retired high school science teacher Roy Merrill.
"She was an outstanding student," Merrill said. "She had a lot of drive to get things done."
Elementary school teacher Carol Richards said Buchanan and her family were "very Christian people."
"We are so excited," she said of the rescue. "Many prayers have been answered."
Sewell reported from Cincinnati.