Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff
A former Boston man who was imprisoned for seven months in North Korea for crossing the border into that country landed at Logan International Airport this afternoon, along with former president Jimmy Carter, who had won his release on humanitarian grounds.
Aijalon Mahli Gomes hugged his mother and then was smothered by other family members in a group hug after he stepped off the plane, as a beaming Carter looked on.
Carter on Thursday had secured the release of Gomes, 31, who taught English in South Korea and crossed into North Korea early this year. Gomes was arrested Jan. 25 and sentenced in April to eight years of hard labor and a fine of $700,000.
Gomes had moved to South Korea in his late 20s to teach English. His friends have said he was active in an evangelical church in South Korea and was very upset when a friend, Korean-American Robert Park, was arrested after crossing into North Korea on Dec. 25 to protest human rights abuses there.
His family held small American flags and a sign that read, "Welcome home, disciple of the Lord. Salvation is ours," as they greeted him on the tarmac. A family friend said 19 relatives had come to welcome Gomes.
Carter did not speak to reporters, though he gave them the thumbs-up sign. After a few minutes on the ground, he got back aboard the charter plane.
"I am just joyful and grateful that my son is home,'' Gomes's mother, Jacqueline McCarthy, said this morning before leaving her Dorchester home for the airport to greet her son. "I thank President Carter for making sure he is home safely. I thank God, I thank God, for everything everyone has done for us.''
The family issued a statement this afternoon that also thanked the North Korean government for "caring for Aijalon during his darkest days, then agreeing to release him on humanitarian grounds." The statement also thanked Swedish diplomats in North Korea and the US State Department, and said the family was grateful for the "thoughts, prayers and good wishes of so many Americans who shared our pain and can now share our joy."
The statement said Gomes's "journey toward healing really just begins today" and asked the media to respect the family's wishes for privacy as he recovers.
Later in the afternoon, some family members spoke briefly outside McCarthy's home.
Gomes's brother, Milton McCarthy Jr., 19, said seeing him at Logan "was an overwhelming amount of joy and happiness, just like they said, a prayer being answered."
Another brother, Shawn Gomes, 33, said his brother graduated from Charlestown High School around 1997 and had a bachelor's in English literature from Bowdoin College.
He said his younger brother never displayed an interest in traveling when he was growing up.
"That was a surprise to us," he said.
Both Shawn Gomes and Milton McCarthy said their brother, who is not married, was the more "sophisticated" sibling in the family.
Milton McCarthy said the family has been preparing for his brother's return.
"There was a lot of shopping," he said.
The State Department welcomed the news of Gomes's release in a statement Thursday night, noting that Carter was not representing the federal government, which has no diplomatic ties with North Korea.
“We appreciate former president Carter’s humanitarian effort and welcome North Korea’s decision to grant Mr. Gomes special amnesty and allow him to return to the United States,’’ the State Department said. “We also want to express our gratitude to the Swedish government for their tireless consular services and efforts on the US government’s behalf in their role as our protecting power in North Korea.’’
Carter traveled to North Korea at the invitation of that country, according to the statement.
“[As] the case of Mr. Gomes illustrates, travel to North Korea is not routine or risk-free,’’ the State Department said. “We are issuing a travel warning for American citizens, warning US citizens against travel to North Korea.’’
The reclusive and erratic North Korean regime is known for kidnapping foreigners and for handing down harsh sentences to people who try to cross in and out of its border without permission, sometimes using them as pawns to gain international attention.
Last year, former president Bill Clinton gained the release of two American journalists who were accused of crossing illegally into the country.
Maria Cramer, Travis Andersen, John R. Ellement, and Martin Finucane of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Sydney Lupkin contributed to this report.
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