Bandits released unharmed and without ransom yesterday Ellicott City native Tracy Rectanus and three others they kidnapped eight days ago on a remote island in the southern Philippines.
"As of quarter to six tonight, we are one happy family," said Ms. Rectanus' mother, Hazel Rectanus, shortly after receiving notification from the State Department that her daughter -- a missionary teacher -- was free.
Friends had begun calling about noon, telling the family that Cable News Network was reporting that the Muslim separatist Moro National Liberation Front, which has been aiding government negotiations for the group's release, had arranged for the release of Ms. Rectanus, 34, and the other three hostages to authorities in Alumapid village, Sulu province, about 600 miles south of Manila.
Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Manila confirmed the release. "As far as their physical condition goes, they are fine," a spokesman said. "We will be getting them back to Manila as soon as we can."
Mrs. Rectanus and her husband, Larry, who live on Dogwood Drive in Ellicott City, said they have yet to talk with their daughter because she is still on Jolo, the remote island where she was kidnapped and which has no telephone service.
"She has such strong faith in the Lord, I know she'll be emotionally well and intellectually well" despite her eight-day ordeal, Mrs. Rectanus said.
The Rectanuses usually speak with their daughter the third Saturday of every month. The daughter had gone to Manila in August to teach speech pathology in a missionary school run by the California-based Summer Institute of Linguistics.
In February, she told her parents her call would be a week late because she and fellow teacher Carol Allen of Kittanning, Pa., were going to visit a friend on Jolo while on spring break.
"We didn't know she would be in any danger," Mrs. Rectanus said.
The teachers were kidnapped, along with Lynette Cook, wife of an Australian missionary, and Mrs. Cook's two daughters -- 5-year-old Cheree and 3-year-old Ellis. The younger child was released hours after the kidnapping, reportedly because she kept crying and demanding milk. The remaining hostages were held near a Muslim separatist stronghold on Jolo.
The kidnappers initially demanded $77,000 and four M-14 assault rifles. They later lessened the demands, and a Muslim negotiator said they finally dropped ransom demands altogether, asking only to be reimbursed for the expenses they incurred during the kidnapping.
Military officials say a total of 401 people, including 25 foreigners, have been kidnapped in the southern Philippines since 1988. Most were freed after large sums were paid.
Reports from Jolo said local government negotiators had given the most recent kidnappers about $1,950. The bandits were not arrested.
"I was confident right from the beginning that there would be a successful resolution," Mr. Rectanus said. "Early indications were positive and everything since has unfurled to turn out all right."
"The love, care and concern of people has been beyond belief," Mrs. Rectanus said.
"I couldn't begin to tell you the network of friends -- some of whom we haven't heard from in 25 years -- that has been calling us from all over the United States. People have really been phenomenal. I don't know how many prayer chains she's on."
Mrs. Rectanus, wearing a yellow ribbon in her blue blazer, said she is going to compile a scrapbook of the events of the past week "so Tracy will know everything that has been going on."
Mrs. Rectanus said she stayed home the first day she learned of her daughter's capture, but returned to her job as a second-grade teacher's assistant at Waverly Woods Elementary School the following day.
"I felt I would deal with life a little better by going back to work," she said.
Mr. Rectanus said he, too, found that it was better to return to work. "I was better off trying to occupy myself than staying home here, waiting, feeling frustrated and totally helpless."
The couple's younger daughter, Lori, had come up from Alexandria last week to attend to the house-hold, along with daughter-in-law Paige.
Their son, Lance, his wife, Paige, and their two children, Leah and Adam, were helping Mr. and Mrs. Rectanus celebrate last night.
"I don't think anything will change," Mrs. Rectanus said. "Tracy loves her work and has complete trust and faith in most people. I'm going to embroider her a shirt, however, that says, 'Don't leave Manila again.' "