'Overwhelmed and Grateful': Kidnapped Aid Worker Jessica Buchanan Returns Home

Kristin Wright | Open Doors USA | Updated: Feb 09, 2012

'Overwhelmed and Grateful': Kidnapped Aid Worker Jessica Buchanan Returns Home

Jessica Buchanan, the 32-year-old aid worker who was rescued only two weeks ago with a 60-year-old Danish man, Poul Hagen Thisted, is grateful for her rescue and “overwhelmed” by the support she has received from around the world.

In a statement released on Monday, Feb. 6, Buchanan thanked the Seal team that rescued her (the same unit that killed Osama bin Laden last March) and expressed gratitude to President Obama. “I am overwhelmed and so very grateful for the prayers and support my family and I have received from people around the world,” she said. “I am humbled by the dedication of President Obama and those in the American government who planned and orchestrated my rescue, and by the bravery and heroism of the soldiers who risked their lives to carry it out.”

Buchanan was working with Danish Demining Group, an organization working to demine former conflict zones in the war-torn country. She was with Thisted when they were kidnapped on October 25, 2011. The two were captured near Galkayo, a city that some say is fast becoming the “kidnap capital” of Somalia.

Buchanan was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. She attended Valley Forge University, a Christian college in Phoenixville, Pa. Prior to graduation, Buchanan had her first experience in Africa, as a student teacher in Nairobi. It was there that the Rev. Don Meyer, dean of Valley Forge University, says she first “fell in love with Africa." Meyer told the Associated Press that “she could hardly talk about Africa without tears in her eyes."

Throughout Jessica’s captivity, friends and family quietly carried out prayer vigils, hoping that she would ultimately be rescued. CBS News reports that there are a total of 160 additional foreigners held hostage by Somali pirates, and for Meyer, the outlook didn’t always seem positive. “When we heard this news [of her kidnapping] back in October, it kind of froze us in place, knowing the seriousness of it," he said. "So many times these stories don't have happy endings."

But on January 25, 2012, three months after Jessica’s capture, US Navy Seal Team 6 parachuted into the darkness near the Somali town of Adado and stormed the area where Buchanan and Thisted were being held. Nine Somali gunmen were killed in the operation, and both aid workers were rescued unharmed.

“I could not be prouder of the troops who carried out this mission, and the dedicated professionals who supported their efforts,” President Obama said. He called the mission “yet another message to the world that the United States of America will stand strongly against any threats to our people.”

Shortly after the rescue, President Obama called Jessica’s father to inform him that his daughter was safe. John Buchanan recalls the conversation. "He said, 'John, this is Barack Obama. I'm calling because I have great news for you. Your daughter has been rescued by our military.'"

"I'm extremely proud and glad to be an American," Buchanan said.

As soon as she was able after her release, Jessica Buchanan called her father. It was their first phone conversation in over 90 days. "She said: 'Daddy, I love you, and I'll be fine. I'm OK,'" Buchanan recalled.

Valley Forge University President Don Meyer called the rescue an answer to prayer. "It was very exciting," he said. "We just feel this overwhelming deep sense of gratitude to God for his faithfulness in her life, gratitude to those who had the courage to put themselves in harm's way."

Immediately after her rescue, Jessica’s father, John Buchanan, was eagerly awaiting her arrival. "We're doing well as a family, and Jessica, we have not seen her yet -- so today's the big day," he told ABC. "We're all extremely excited about that. Obviously, I mean I can't really express it in words what it's going to be like to see her. ... We're just really looking forward to a great reunion."

Buchanan’s husband, Erik Landemalm, called the three months of his wife’s captivity “three months of hell.” Landemalm, along with Buchanan’s friends and family kept quiet about the capture out of fear that media attention might make a ransom impossibly high. For those closest to her, this proved to be one of the biggest challenges.

"This morning, after going through three months of hell with Somali pirates, my amazing wife was saved by the American military and she is now in safety!" he posted on his Facebook page.

Landemalm apologized to those of his acquaintances who were not aware of Jessica’s captivity, due to concerns about her safety and possible rescue. "Words cannot describe the joy and relief we feel!” he wrote. “Thank you to all that have helped and apologies to all our friends I haven't shared this with. This is a day of happiness!"

Somalia’s transitional government welcomed the news of the aid workers’ safety in a statement saying that their rescue "is a great joy to the Somali government and to all Somalis as well as to all right thinking people everywhere."

In a statement released shortly after her rescue, Buchanan asked for privacy as she focuses on healing after the traumatic days of her captivity. “I am beginning to transition back into everyday life,” she says, “focusing on my loved ones and on healing.”

Buchanan’s closest friends and family are focused on helping her recover after the tragic episode that claimed three months of her life. They are grateful for the dramatic rescue, and her family says that they believed the best even during the worst of times. A recent statement from Buchanan’s family says, “"We knew that God would set our sister free."

Kristin Wright is a contributing writer at Crosswalk.com, where she covers topics related to human rights, international travel, social justice, women's issues, religious freedom, and refugee resettlement. For further articles, visit her website at kristinbutler.net or email [email protected].

Publication date: February 9, 2012

'Overwhelmed and Grateful': Kidnapped Aid Worker Jessica Buchanan Returns Home