Jill Carroll Adjusts to Freedom

ByABC News via logo

March 31, 2006 — -- When Jill Carroll was unexpectedly released Thursday after 82 days in captivity in Iraq, the first phone call she made was to her twin sister, Katie Carroll, to say, "I'm free."

Then both sisters burst into tears, according to The Christian Science Monitor, the newspaper for which Jill Carroll had been freelancing before she was kidnapped.

Next, she called her parents.

"I love you," she told her mother, according to the Monitor, "and every day single day I was in captivity I cried over how worried you must be. … And what a burden this must be for the family."

"Jill called me directly. It was quite a wake-up call, to say the least," her father, Jim Carroll, said. "She's apparently in good health and mentally strong."

"We just couldn't be more pleased and more grateful for this good news for Jill and her family," said Richard Bergenheim, the Monitor's editor.

Carroll was dropped off Thursday near an office of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the country's main Sunni political organization, in western Baghdad. Her feelings of joy and relief are only stage one of the long recovery process former hostages face, according to experts on kidnapping.

"In a matter of hours, 48 hours or 72, this world that she's been in the last three months is going to come crashing down on her and she is going to need her mental toughness to get through this," said Jack Cloonan, a former FBI agent and now ABC News consultant.

But so far, Carroll is holding up well, says Bergenheim who received an e-mail this morning from Jim Carroll.

"It was just letting us know that Jill was sounding very well, perhaps a little emotionally fragile, as we can certainly understand," Bergenheim said. "But on the whole they're just so encouraged by how well she does seem to be."

One enormous challenge former hostages must deal with is grappling with emotions about their captors. On Thursday, when Carroll gave an interview to an Iraqi TV station, she portrayed them as sympathetic, which experts say is normal.

"It's important people know that they never hit me, threatened me in any way," she said.

In a video Carroll made just before her release, she went even further in what may have been a coerced statement.

"I feel guilty, honestly," she said on the video. "I've been here, treated very well, like a guest. I've been given good food, never, never hurt while those women are in Abu Ghraib. Terrible things are happening to them."

"It seems this interview was being conducted under duress," Bergenheim said. "When you're making a video and having to recite certain things with three men with machine guns standing over you, you're probably going to say exactly what you're told to say."

Carroll had some contact with Iraqi women and children inside the house where she was staying, which was a great source of comfort to her, she told the Monitor. The only exercise she got for three months was walking the two feet to three feet she could walk through her bedroom to her bathroom and back again.

She also told The Washington Post that she worried she had gained weight because she had never turned down any food for fear of offending her kidnappers.

Why Carroll was released remains "the untold story" and was "a bolt out the blue," Bergenheim said.

On Thursday, he released a statement saying that neither the Monitor nor the Carroll family nor anyone that he knew of had been involved with any negotiation with Carroll's captors.

Some, however, remain skeptical that the captors weren't given anything in exchange for Carroll's freedom.

"But I can say with absolute certainty that we have no knowledge and I talked to Jim Carroll very specifically about this last night to say our credibility is on the line and do you know anything," he said. "He assured me absolutely not, and we've been talking so much over the past two-and-a-half months that I know he was telling me the truth."

Friends of Carroll say that, knowing Carroll, her instinct may be to try to get back to work before too long. The real trick for Carroll in terms of recovery could be lowering her expectations, as James Loney, a former Canadian hostage who was released last week, has done.

"When I can get through an ordinary day without shaking legs and a pounding heart, I think that will be a sign that I can start to tell my story," Loney said.

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