As Thomas Sutherland was being released by his Lebanese captors, his wife and daughters were gathering in Ames, Iowa, to bury Mr. Sutherland's father-in-law, making the news of his release a bittersweet family experience.
"We were in the middle of plans [for the funeral]," said one daughter, Katherine "Kit" Sutherland, at her Fort Collins, Colo., home. "We're torn between two emotions right now, so the champagne hasn't come out yet."
William Murray, who had acted as the family's spokesman during most of the hostage ordeal, died Saturday from cancer. Mr. Murray, father of Mr. Sutherland's wife, Jean, was 88.
"This is all so overwhelming," said Ann Sutherland, the freed hostage's oldest daughter.
Jean Sutherland was journeying from Beirut to the family home in Ames for Thursday's funeral when State Department officials caught up with her at the airport in Newark, N.J., bringing word of her husband's impending release. Jean Sutherland apparently decided at the airport to fly to Germany for a reunion with her husband, family members said.
Two of the Sutherlands' three daughters -- Kit, 28, and Joan, 25, who lives in Gresham, Ore. -- are expected to join their mother in New Jersey, then travel together to Germany for the family reunion. Ann Sutherland, who is pregnant with her second child and unable to travel, lives in Berkeley, Calif., with her husband and 3-year-old daughter. Mr. Sutherland, who has been held captive since June 9, 1985, has never seen his granddaughter.
Typically, U.S. hostages are taken to a U.S. Air Force base in Wiesbaden, Germany, for debriefing and a medical review before being released to their families.
"She's been waiting for this for six years and wants to be there for him," Ann Sutherland said. "Our family's plans aren't very certain right now. It's possible the family would hold up the funeral until my father arrives. But we just don't know right now."
When representatives of Islamic Jihad, a Shiite Muslim group that has claimed responsibility for kidnapping Western hostages, said early yesterday that they had released Mr. Sutherland and British hostage Terry Waite, the Sutherland family held itself in check until the word became official. The kidnappers, who also are believed to hold Associated Press correspondent Terry Anderson, released an old black-and-white photograph of their remaining captive.
By late morning, Mr. Sutherland's family -- scattered around the globe -- was convinced by State Department officials and news media reports that Mr. Sutherland was free. Then, the family began collecting themselves and their feelings in preparation for Mr. Sutherland's eventual return home. The former hostage was born in Glasgow, Scotland, where his five brothers and sisters live.
Alice Murray, who is mourning the death of her husband, rejoiced at the news of Mr. Sutherland's freedom. "I think the good is overshadowing the sorrow," she said. from her home in Ames. "We must think about the future and be happy. I feel that my husband would be just as elated, and he would want us to celebrate. So although there are mixed emotions, it is for Tom that we must think now."
"It's an amazing feeling," Ann Sutherland said.