Fowle’s return after capivity marks ‘whirlwind’ day

Jeffrey Fowle’s first day home from North Korea was marked by an early-morning surprise reunion with his three children and wife at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and talk about returning to the job from which he was terminated.

The 56-year-old West Carrollton man arrived in the area Wednesday after more than five months in captivity in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, where his unexpected release came as it was anticipated he would face trial for leaving in a bible in public location.

“We’d like to thank God for his hand in protection over Jeff these past six months, for providing strength and peace over his family in his absence,” Fowle’s attorney Tim Tepe said after the family arrived at their home.

“His family would like to thank the U.S. State Department, the embassy in Sweden, former Ambassador Tony Hall and many others,” Tepe added, noting that Fowle needs time before speaking publicly about his ordeal. “And all of the people who offered their love, support and prayers during this time.”

Fowle reunited with his family shortly before 7 a.m. after an Air Force C-40 Clipper jet touched down at Wright-Patterson, where his awaiting children did not yet know they would see their father.

His wife, Tatyana, kept Fowle’s return from the children, because “I think Jeff likes surprises,” she said.

A motorcade escorted the family to their Soldiers Home Road home. Police there had blocked off roads overnight while the media awaited Fowle’s return.

Fowle’s arrival capped a “whirlwind” 24 hours in which news broke about his release, he flew through multiple time zones and returned to the area for the first time since late April, about a week before he was detained, Tepe said.

“Jeff would like you to know that he was treated well by the government of the DPRK, that he is currently in good health,” Tepe said. “The past 24 hours have been a whirlwind for Jeff and his family. Jeff needs some time right now to get adjusted to his life at home.”

‘Time to adjust’

The job Fowle was terminated from — equipment operator III in the city of Moraine’s street department — is open and available, city officials said.

“Certainly Jeff has a lot of decisions to make,” said Moraine Mayor Elaine Allison. “He’s literally been back here on homeland just a few hours. So there’s certainly a lot of things he has to do, one of which is deciding whether or not he’s ready to come back to work for the city.

“That’s certainly Jeff’s decision. We have a position open,” she added. “…We have certain policies and procedures that we follow. But that’s certainly an option that’s open and available to Jeff should he want to come back to the city of Moraine.”

That decision will come in time, Tepe said.

“I think that Jeff needs some time to adjust,” he said. “…I think Jeff wants to get back to his normal routine and his normal life and I think he’s thoroughly enjoyed working for the city of Moraine. So if you’re asking me, I think he wants to do so.”

The city’s termination of Fowle became effective Sept. 18 after, Tepe said at the time, about a month of talks between himself, the city and the union representing his client.

The move also came just days after another U.S. detainee in North Korea, Matthew Todd Miller, 24, of Bakersfield, Calif., had been convicted and sentenced to six years of hard labor. It was thought that Fowle’s trial would follow. A third American, Kenneth Bae, 46, of Lynwood, Wash., is serving a 15-year sentence for state subversion.

Moraine’s decision included a severance payment of more than $70,000 for Fowle and the ability to be reinstated, according to documents obtained by this newspaper.

The termination letter by Moraine City Manager David Hicks, dated Sept. 16, indicated “the city is treating you as an employee in ‘good standing.’

“Additionally, your ability to file for reinstatement to your position, within the restrictions of the Merit System remain available to you, should you have the ability and desire to pursue that option,” according to the letter signed by Hicks.

The money in the severance package has not been paid out because the family was considering options, Allison said.

“The city of Moraine is elated that Jeff and his family are finally reunited,” she said.

Why was he released?

Allison expressed thanks to Tony Hall, the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang and members of the Ohio congressional delegation for their efforts in seeking Fowle’s release. Hall is a retired diplomat and former Ohio congressman who used his connections with North Korean officials to discuss Fowle’s case.

Hall has been to North Korea several times. At the urging of U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, he worked through diplomatic channels while the family sought to enlist the aid of President Barack Obama and former presidents.

The Korea Central News Agency, the DPRK’s government-run media outlet, said its leader, Kim Jong Un, ordered the release of Fowle, who was referred to as a “U.S. criminal” after considering repeated requests from Obama. The North Korean government did not provide any updates on the statuses of Bae and Miller.

Relations between Washington and Pyongyang, never warm, are at a particularly low point, and the U.S. has sought unsuccessfully for months to send a high-level representative to North Korea to negotiate acquittals for all three men.

The United States has no diplomatic relations with North Korea and strongly warns American citizens against traveling to the country.

In Berlin Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry said “there was no quid pro quo” for the release of Fowle.

In Washington, State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf downplayed suggestions that Fowle’s release could be a step toward a diplomatic thawing between North Korea and the U.S. She said the Obama administration remains keenly focused on whether North Korea will engage in negotiations to end its nuclear weapons program.

“The ball is in their court in terms of that,” Harf said of Pyongyang. She said Fowle’s release “is a positive development on one case. But we need to see positive developments on the other cases. We need to see any steps towards denuclearization, which we haven’t seen.”

A celebration Sunday

Urbancrest Baptist Church, one of the churches Fowle attends, plans to welcome him on Sunday, according to Senior Pastor Tom Pendergrass. The Lebanon congregation plans to have a special time of prayer and celebration at the end of both of its Sunday services, he said.

“We are rejoicing that Jeff Fowle has been released,” Pendergrass stated in an e-mail.

Leaders of the Bethel Baptist Church in West Carrollton, where Tatyana Fowle is a member, were excited by her husband’s return.

“The church family is just overjoyed,” said assistant Pastor Jim Shihady. “We’ve been praying for him and we just trust that he’s going to get back into the daily routine of life. I know he’s got some issues there with his work and no doubt being reunited with his family is going to be a joy.”

Meanwhile, Tepe said, it is important to remember Miller and Bae remain in North Korea.

“Although we overjoyed by Jeff’s return home, we are mindful that Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller continue to be detained in the DPRK,” he said. “And (we) understand the disappointment their families are experiencing today that their loved ones are not returning home like Jeff.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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