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In Phillips' hometown, 'elation' over his release

In Capt. Richard Phillips' hometown, they'll never forget this Easter Sunday. Five days after he was taken hostage by Somali pirates in an aborted hijacking, Phillips was freed in  dramatic fashion.
/ Source: The Associated Press

In Capt. Richard Phillips' hometown, they'll never forget this Easter Sunday.

Five days after he was taken hostage by Somali pirates in an aborted hijacking, Phillips was freed in equally dramatic fashion, thrilling a community where yellow ribbons had sprung up like spring flowers in hopes that such symbols counted for something.

Perhaps they did, especially on a day when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and reflect on symbols of new life.

"Elation," said Steve Barton, 51, summing up the mood as he looked out his front door at a yellow tissue-paper bouquet he'd fastened to a tree in his yard. "Our prayers were answered."

Escaped unharmed
Phillips, a 53-year-old father of two known in his rural Vermont community as a dedicated family man, avid sportsman and serious skipper, won his freedom in a daring U.S. Navy Seals rescue in which three of his captors were killed but he escaped unharmed.

The good news traveled fast in Underhill, about 35 miles northwest of Montpelier, the state capital.

A lawn sign on Route 15 that earlier read "Pray for Captain Phillips' release and safe return home" was revised in the afternoon to read, "Capt. Phillips rescued and safe."

Even before Maersk spokeswoman Alison McColl stepped out into bitter 22-degree cold to read a Phillips family statement in front of a horde of news reporters, camera people and microphones, everyone seemed to express a palpable sense of relief.

"It's a celebration, instead of the reverse," said Melissa Akey, 42, of Williston, who heard the news when she stopped into a convenience store.

And the timing of it didn't escape notice.

"It couldn't happen on a better day — Easter," said Nickie Tinker, 36, a clerk at the Jolley's convenience store.

"It's great, news, especially on Easter," said Kim Jennings, 43, of Williston. "How terrific is that? It could've ended completely differently. It's a world away. Who knows what they're thinking, and why they're holding someone hostage?"

'I'm just so excited'
Neighbors Terry and Sheila Aiken, who live across the street from the Phillips', fought back tears as they talked about him.

"I'm just so excited," said Mrs. Aiken, 62. "It's like it just changed the world back to the world."

Andreas Nolte, 48, of Jericho, was out for a run when he heard.

"I'm really happy," said Nolte, who learned from a reporter after running past the Phillips' white farmhouse. "It's a happy day, especially since it's Easter."

Filling his vehicle with gas, Jeff St. John, 31, of Richford, said he didn't understand why it took so long for the U.S. military to free Phillips from the drifting lifeboat where four Somali pirates held him captive.

"They've got a whole ship full of people. I would've just taken the pirates out, right off," St. John said.

There was no second-guessing by the family, though.

Phillips' wife, Andrea Phillips, remained behind closed doors in the family's home after the news had broken.

Fighting back tears
McColl choked up as she stood in the street outside, reading the family's statement off a clipboard.

"The Phillips family wants to thank you all for your support and prayers. They have felt the caring and concern extended by the nation to their family. This is truly a very happy Easter for the Phillips family.

"Andrea and Richard have spoken. I think you can all imagine their joy, and what a happy moment that was for them. They're all just so happy and relieved.

"Andrea wanted me to tell the nation that all of your prayers and good wishes have paid off because Captain Phillips is safe," she said.

May be a silver lining to ordeal
Barton, 51, who once coached the Phillips' daughter, Mariah Phillips, on a youth league baseball team, said he was relieved the ordeal was over and said there may be a silver lining to it — waking Americans up to the fact that such kidnappings occur frequently abroad.

"It took an American getting kidnapped for all of us to feel everybody else's worldly anguish," he said.

But he said he wouldn't be taking his yellow ribbon down — not yet, anyway.

"I'll leave it there for a few days. I'm in no rush," he said.

Phillips was hailed as a hero by many, including Capt. Joseph Murphy, the father of second-in-command Shane Murphy, a former Phillips classmate at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Bourne, Mass.

"I have made it clear throughout this terrible ordeal that my son and our family will forever be indebted to Capt. Phillips for his bravery," said the elder Murphy, in a statement released there. "If not for his incredible personal sacrifice, this kidnapping and act of terror could have turned out much worse."

The whistle also sounded aboard the maritime academy's training ship in celebration of Phillips' release. The academy's president, Merchant Marine Rear Adm. Rick Gurnon, said Phillips' actions "showed unbelievable courage and professionalism."

"He was the good shepherd," Gurnon said. "He willingly exchanged his life for the lives of his flock — his crew. In doing that, he was able to stack the cards in his favor, and ultimately resulted in his safe return."