Families rejoice at news that Boston pastor, Everett woman have been released from Egypt kidnapping

Newly freed US tourists Michel Louis and Lissa Alphonse sit at the North Sinai security headquarters in the Egyptian city of El-Arish following their release on July 16, 2012. Egyptian Bedouin tribesmen released two US tourists who had been held in captivity for three days in the Sinai Peninsula, a senior security official told AFP. AFP PHOTO/STR STR/AFP/GettyImages
Pastor Michel Louis and Lissa Alphonse sit at the North Sinai security headquarters in the Egyptian city of El-Arish.
AFP/Getty Images

Family and friends expressed joy and relief today at the news that a Dorchester pastor and an Everett woman were released by a hostage-taker in Egypt who had kidnapped them Friday from their sightseeing tour.

“At the moment, there is a lot of joy. I’m exuberant. I have no words to express it. We believe in God. And let me tell you, he did not let us down,” said Jean Louis, the son of Michel Louis, 61, the pastor.

As the happy son emerged from the pastor’s home on Talbot Avenue to talk to the media, strains of joyous music floated out onto the air from a service being conducted inside.

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Yves Donald Alphonse, husband of Lissa Alphonse, the 39-year-old mother of two kidnapped with Louis, said at the couple’s home that he was relieved that his wife, had been released unharmed. But he expressed serious concern for his wife’s emotional health.

“For sure, she’s not OK,” Alphonse said. “Her mind will need some major help.”

General Ahmed Bakr, head of Egyptian security in North Sinai, said the two Americans and their Egyptian tour guide were now under the protection of Egyptian security officials in Sinai, the AP reported this afternoon.

The kidnapper, Jirmy Abu-Masuh, said he freed them after officials promised they would work on releasing his uncle from prison. He told the AP by telephone that he wanted to grant them mercy, because they had nothing to do with his dispute with police.

Wire service photographs showed Louis and Alphonse appearing uninjured at the North Sinai security headquarters in the Egyptian city of El-Arish.

The Globe reported today that when an armed man intercepted the bus of Boston-area churchgoers, Louis had volunteered himself.

The captor tried to seize Alphonse, but Louis insisted he go instead, the Reverend Matthew K. Thompson, a friend of the Louis family, told worshipers Sunday at Jubilee Christian Church.

“Take me,” Louis said, according to Thompson.

In the end, the captor took both Louis and Alphonse, as well as the local guide-translator for the group of about two dozen Haitian and Haitian-American churchgoers from greater Boston. They were in the Sinai Peninsula on their way to Israel.

The Louis family said the office of US Senator Scott Brown had confirmed the release shortly before 1 p.m.

“Everyone’s prayers have been answered,” Brown said in a statement.

“What began as a sightseeing tour turned into an unimaginable nightmare for these Massachusetts families and thank God that nightmare is coming to an end,” US Senator John F. Kerry said in a statement. Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, had worked since Friday to get the Americans released, his office said.

Jean Louis and his three siblings held an impromptu press conference on the steps of their home this afternoon shortly after speaking with their father via telephone.

“He told us that he loved us, he’s safe, and he’s coming home,” his son, Nathaniel Louis, said.

“He sounds in good spirits because he heard our voice,” Daniel Louis said.

The family had no details on the release, or when their father might return.

“We didn’t even ask him those questions. All we asked him was, is he OK? He said, yes, he is on his way home,” Daniel Louis said.

Deborah Louis, his daughter, said “we’re just overwhelmingly happy to hear from my father. And we’re grateful to everybody who reached out to us.”

In Everett, Alphonse said, “For three days and three nights, it’s been hard.” He said his 10-year-old daughter had been “devastated” by the kidnapping and did not yet believe her mother was coming back.

“I told her that, but she’s hoping — and so do I — and waiting to see,” Alphonse said.

He thanked Senator Brown, whose office notified him of the release, the government, and the media. “And I say thank you to the Haitian community, my friends, and all the people I don’t know who prayed so that these two people can be released safe. And I say thank you to everybody,” he said.

The trip was the fifth such journey to Israel that Louis has taken through his church, and he was leading a group drawn from multiple Haitian-American congregations in the area, his son said Sunday.

They were on their way to the sixth-century St. Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai when the abductions occurred.