Friends of the American journalist and author Peter Theo Curtis are celebrating his safe return to New England, following his release by a Syrian extremist group that had held him captive for nearly two years. "I was just fearing so much for his life," said Dr. Chris Mangini, a veterinarian in Woodstock, Vermont, who said he has been close friends with Curtis for about 25 years.
Mangini told New England Cable News he has been glued to his computer screen for several days now, scouring the internet for news updates on Curtis's release. "I'm just ecstatic," Mangini said Wednesday, after watching video in an NECN.com news report to see Curtis briefly address the media. "This is almost surreal right now."
In those comments to reporters, Curtis expressed gratitude to total strangers who have wished him well upon his return to the United States. He also said he was unaware of how hard many people were working to secure his release. "And now having found out, I am just overwhelmed with emotion," Curtis said. "I suddenly remember how good the American people are, and what kindness they have in their hearts."
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A group linked to al-Qaida, the al-Nusra Front, released Curtis. The al-Nusra Front is fighting the regime of Syrian leader Bashar Assad, the Associated Press reported.
His release came just days after another rival extremist group in Syria, the Islamic State, released an online video showing the beheading of another New England journalist. The Islamic State said they killed James Foley, 40, of Rochester, New Hampshire, in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes targeting Islamic State positions in northern Iraq.
According to the AP, Curtis' family has said they believe he was initially captured in October 2012, shortly after crossing into Syria. Curtis, under the Theo Padnos byline, has written for the New Republic and other publications. He also wrote a 2011 book called "Undercover Muslim: A Journey Into Yemen," which studied the radicalization of disaffected youths.
Curtis' mother, Nancy, said in a statement Tuesday she was "overwhelmed with relief" that her son had been returned to her.
Mangini said he enjoys playing tennis and going telemark skiing with Curtis, and looks forward to seeing him again soon. "I'm going to hug him and tell him how much we've missed him, and how hard it's been to wait this whole time and not know what's going on," Mangini said.
Mangini told NECN he dropped Curtis off at the bus station when he began that ill-fated 2012 journey overseas. After watching his comments to reporters, Mangini said he thought his friend looked and sounded good--like himself, he said.
Curtis graduated from Vermont's Middlebury College in 1991, with a bachelor's degree in literary studies, the school said. He later continued his education at the University of Massachusetts.
Mangini said Curtis's family owns a home in Vermont, and said Curtis loves to spend as much time as possible in the Green Mountain State enjoying the outdoors.
"I can't wait to see him," added Amelia Rappaport, the co-owner of the Woodstock Farmers' Market, who said she counts Curtis's mother as one of her dearest customers.
Rappaport watched Curtis's comments to the media in the NECN.com report, and said she could glimpse his familiar humor and warmth. "It's just an amazing thing," Rappaport said. "It's an amazing thing to me--it's a cliche--how politics really are local. This is happening to somebody on the other side of the world, and yet he's part of our community."
Rappaport said she is especially grateful for the way this turned out, well aware the story of Peter Theo Curtis could easily have had a very different ending.