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Mother of released Syrian hostage reached out to James Foley’s mother

Foley’s death in Syria tempers relief over freedom for Curtis after 2 years

The mother of Peter Theo Curtis, the journalist recently released after being kidnapped by Islamic militants in 2012, said Monday that she immediately contacted the mother of slain reporter James Foley when she learned that her own son had been freed.

Speaking to "ABC World News" from her Cambridge home, an emotional Nancy Curtis said that she sent an e-mail to Diane Foley, of Rochester, N.H., upon learning that her son was safe.

"We've been through so much together," Nancy Curtis said. "I didn't want her to hear it from the media first."

Her remarks came after a gruesome video clip surfaced last week of Foley, 40, being executed at the hands of the Islamic State.


Curtis and Foley were kidnapped separately in the fall of 2012 in Syria. Curtis's captors were members of Al Nusra Front, which has ties to the Al Qaeda terrorist network and is one of the groups seeking to topple President Bashir Assad of Syria.

Nancy Curtis told ABC that she plans to wrap her son in a long embrace when he returns to the United States. "I'll give him a big hug," she said. "And I'll probably cry. And he'll probably cry."

The network reported that Curtis's captors had demanded ransom payments via e-mail as high as $25 million.

Nancy Curtis said that her family demanded proof that the group had her son and that he was alive, asking for a response to a specific question about his educational background that only he would know.

"What was the subject of your PhD dissertation?" Nancy Curtis said her family asked the captors, adding that she knew they had her son when the correct response came back: the Western Museum.

She said she has spoken by phone with her son, who is recuperating in a luxury hotel in Israel.


"Usually, he doesn't have a whole lot to say to me," she said. "But he was so excited. And he was saying, 'Mom, they're being so nice to me . . . putting me up in a 12-star hotel.'

"He was over-the-top excited," Nancy Curtis said. "Obviously, he has to decompress. He's been through so much."

Earlier Monday at the Curtis home in Cambridge, his cousin, Viva Hartigg, said in a brief interview that family members have "heard his health appears good." She said she did not know when Curtis, whom the family refers to as Theo, would be coming home.

Curtis's 22 months in captivity were kept from the public at his family's request.

On Sunday evening, he was handed over to United Nations peacekeepers in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, a UN spokesman in New York said. After it was determined he was in good medical condition, he was transferred to representatives of the US government, according to the UN.

An American photojournalist who escaped from an Islamic militant group operating in Syria with Curtis's help hailed Curtis's release Monday.

"This day will go down as one of the happiest of my life," Matthew Schrier said in a statement. "On this day my thoughts, prayers, and tears of joy go out to the entire Curtis family. Hopefully, this is just the beginning regarding our captives and their long journeys home."

Schrier was able to escape from their captors in July 2013 by standing on Curtis's back and squeezing through an opening in the walls of their cell, The New York Times has reported.


"After living through the tragic events of this past week with the death of James Foley and hearing that the life of Theo Curtis has been spared, it gives me great hope for the safe return of all the other hostages," Schrier said.

Curtis, 45, a writer and scholar who his family said is from Boston and Vermont, was released after emissaries from the government of Qatar won his freedom on humanitarian grounds, a development that stands in a stark contrast to the brutal murder of Foley, a fellow war correspondent.

William Moebius, chairman of the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said he got to know Curtis when he was a PhD student in the 1990s and nominated him once for a distinguished teaching award.

"He was someone I admired," said Moebius, noting Curtis established a mentoring program for new graduate students. "He was a playful, engaging teacher, and someone who could keep students' attention week after week. His sheer physicality seemed to thrill some of our undergraduates."

He described Curtis as a "remarkably active bicyclist and organizer of groups," recalling how he organized the university's bike team with an eye toward competing in the National Collegiate Championships, and how he arranged a series of comparative literature conferences.

President Obama was briefed on Curtis's release Sunday morning as he wrapped up his vacation on Martha's Vineyard.

''The president shares in the joy and relief that we all feel now that Theo is out of Syria and safe,'' White House spokesman Eric Schultz said. ''But we continue to hold in our thoughts and prayers the Americans who remain in captivity in Syria, and we will continue to use all of the tools at our disposal to see that the remaining American hostages are freed.''


Nancy Curtis told ABC Monday that she is focused on getting through each day until her son returns.

"I don't look back," she said. "I don't look forward. I deal with things as they come, and I'm still in that mode. I'm not worrying about what it's going to be like when he comes back, or what shape he's going to be in, or what he's going to need. I'll figure it out when it happens."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report. David Abel can be reached at david.abel@globe.com.
Follow him on Twitter @davabel. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.