A rose, a newspaper and an awaiting family

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BOSTON (AP) – For 82 days, Jill Carroll scarcely saw sunlight.

As her kidnappers shuffled her between hiding places, the trips always ended in a room with no view outside. Carroll recalled a rare occasion when light filtered into her “cave,” lifting her spirits.

On Sunday, the 28-year-old journalist was again able to enjoy the sunlight – and other small signs of freedom.

A red rose left on her in-flight dinner tray. A copy of a days-old American newspaper. Eventually, the arms of her mother, father and twin sister wrapped around her.

After nearly three months in captivity, Carroll was freed last week. She spent much of her flight back to the U.S. staring at the blue sky outside her plane window, according to a report on The Christian Science Monitor’s Web site. A few times, she admired her rose in the sunlight.

“Talk about freedom: Here we are right above the clouds, we’re in the sky – when I was so far away from it. It’s wonderful,” she told the Monitor.

Carroll was freelancing for the Monitor when she 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 in one of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods.

After arriving at Boston’s Logan International Airport, she was quickly driven out of the airport in a police-escorted limousine to a private meeting at the newspaper’s headquarters with her family.

“I finally feel like I am alive again. I feel so good,” Carroll told the Monitor. “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 didn’t step out into public view but reports through the Monitor’s Web site, along with photos, showed a joyful and tearful reunion with her parents and twin sister. She was accompanied on the flight by Monitor colleagues, who described her seven-hour flight back to the U.S.

Editor Richard Bergenheim said colleagues were grateful Carroll was home safe.

“When Jill is ready, the Monitor will begin to tell her story and we will also hold a press conference where she will speak. But we will not be making any further statements on Sunday and hope that the Carroll family’s privacy will be respected,” Bergenheim said in a statement.

On her flight, Carroll was touched to find the red rose on her dinner tray. 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 the giant poster that had been erected in Rome.

She was tickled to see pictures of her family and kissed the photo of her father, Jim Carroll. “He looks good,” she said, and ran her fingers over the photo of her mom, Mary Beth, the Monitor reported.

Photographs of the reunion released by the Monitor showed Carroll with her family, her sister stroking her hair, her father casting eyes upward as he held her tightly, her mother staring intently into her face.

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.”

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, who has studied Arabic, 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 did release some female detainees at the time, but said it had nothing to do with the demands.

The Michigan native graduated in 1999 from the University of Massachusetts with a degree in journalism. She was freelancing for the Monitor when she was kidnapped, and was hired about a week later.

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