STEWARTSTOWN, Pa. — Oct 13, 2017, 10:03 PM ET

Couple described as adventure-seekers are free from captors

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Just over five years ago, soon after they wed, Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle set off on a journey to areas of the world infrequently traveled by Westerners, an admittedly quixotic trek their parents say was in keeping with the couple's adventure-seeking spirit.

During the trip that took them to Afghanistan and neighboring central Asian countries — Coleman, a homeschooled devout Catholic and Boyle, her Canadian husband — the couple slept in tents and hostels, interacted with villagers and bought local goods from vendors.

The couple was supposed to return to the U.S. so that Coleman, then pregnant, could deliver her baby. Instead, they were abducted in Afghanistan and held captive by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network, surfacing periodically over the next five years in video recordings sent to their loved ones and scrubbed by the FBI for clues.

On Thursday, U.S. and Pakistani officials announced the release of the couple and the three children they had in captivity, a welcome development in a strange tale that vexed federal investigators for years and became part of the political debate over the U.S. government's obligation to Americans held as hostages overseas.

As news of the couple's release developed, loved ones of Coleman gathered in the family home of Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, just north of the Maryland state line. Friends and neighbors describe Coleman as focused on helping the poor even as a child, when she went door-to-door to raise money for impoverished people in Haiti, and as a budding entrepreneur who made chocolates and sold them to neighbors.

Even as a child, they said, Coleman loved to travel off the beaten path.

"When she was young, we would take trips out West," her mother Lyn Coleman told Philadelphia Magazine last year. "But she was never interested in going to the big tourist areas. She always wanted to know what normal life was like for people."

She appeared to find a kindred adventurous spirit in Boyle, whom she met as a teenager and wed in 2011. They met online as teenagers on Star Wars fan sites. They once spent months traveling through Latin America, where they lived among indigenous Guatemalans and where Boyle grew a long beard that led some children to call him "Santa Claus."

In the summer of 2012, the couple embarked on a journey that took them to Russia and the central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and, ultimately, Afghanistan. It was a risky venture for any couple traveling without escort, especially since Coleman was pregnant with their first child.

But their parents didn't find it all that surprising.

"They really and truly believed that if people were loved and treated with respect that that would be given back to them in kind," Linda Boyle, Boyle's mother, told The Associated Press in a 2014 interview. "So as odd as it may seem to us that they were there, they truly believed with all their heart that if they treated people properly, they would be treated properly."

The family returned to Boyle's home country Friday night on an Air Canada flight from London to Toronto.

Boyle was once married to Zaynab Khadr, the older sister of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr and the daughter of a late senior al-Qaida financier. Officials earlier said they had discounted any link between that background and Boyle's capture.

Coleman's parents have said they last heard from their son-in-law in October 2012 from an internet cafe in what Boyle described as an "unsafe" part of Afghanistan. The couple was abducted shortly thereafter.

The only trace of the couple since they vanished had been in the form of videos released by their captors and family letters. The AP reported in June 2014 about the existence of videos received by Coleman's father in which the couple — Coleman, in a conservative black garment and Boyle with a long, untrimmed beard — implored the U.S. government to help free them.

The families at the time said they were making the videos public in light of the publicity surrounding the rescue, days earlier, of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Coleman's parents told the online Circa News service that they received a letter from their daughter in November 2015, in which she wrote that she'd given birth to a second child in captivity. It's unclear whether they knew she'd had a third.

"I pray to hear from you again, to hear how everybody is doing," the letter read.

The Colemans told ABC's "Good Morning America" in 2016 they took solace in seeing their daughter and grandkids looking healthy on a video released by the captors, and in seeing the children for the first time.

The mood was decidedly different Thursday inside the Coleman home, where in the afternoon a typed notice appeared on the front door saying the family appreciated the "concern being expressed at the joyful news that Caity, Josh and our grandchildren have been released after five long years of captivity."

The sign asked that their privacy be respected while they "make plans for the future."

Retired carpenter Sam Joines said he knows the family and could hardly believe the news when he heard it.

"I figured for sure they were dead, and forgot about it," he said.

Karen Nycum, a neighborhood friend of Coleman's parents, said she was happy for the family.

"I can't imagine how they feel, having grandchildren you haven't had a chance to see," she said. "I'm sure it's been hard for them maintaining that hope."

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Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto and AP writer Michael Rubinkam contributed to this story. De Groot reported from Philadelphia.

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  • indicative

    I don't know why...can't explain it...but I feel there is something strange about this story. I am suspicious of the way they were captured, how well they were apparently treated in their captivity, the fact that they have 3 children now who also appear to be happy and healthy--they just don't seem like they were prisoners to me. And why did they have children at all in that situation? Maybe birth control wasn't available, but still, there are other ways to ensure contraception . Also, his refusal to board a plane to the US is very strange. Granted, he may not like the US, but anyone will say it's better than staying in the area where you were held prisoner.

  • 777abc

    "Couple described as morons are free from captors" is what the title SHOULD read.

  • BurmeseDude

    Hiking in Afghanistan is no adventure, it's pure stupidity. What's next, if they haven't learned? Hiking in N Korea?

  • Rubber Banned

    I hope the govt didn't have to give anything up to get these morons back.

  • xtch3

    Well, they're "free" now, but did the husband ever allow his family to get on an actual plane to leave the place?

  • DarqueSideOfTheMoon

    I'm finding myself less than sympathetic for these people. Seeking 'adventure' in a war zone is the height of stupidity.

  • Pangaea 47

    Backpacking in Afghanistan while pregnant was dumb, but I'm glad they are free.

  • Some guy

    Who describes these idiots as adventure seekers? I own a Jeep and I go off roading, backpacking, and mountain climbing in Colorado. I am an adventure seeker. An American that goes on a trip to terrorist infested Afghanistan is a complete idiot, not an adventure seeker.

  • Tom S

    Boyle, the Islamic converted son of a Canadian Federal Judge, is the ex-brother in law of Taliban combatant Omar Khadr (son of al-Qaeda leader Ahmed Khadr) who was released from GITMO and recently paid $8 million dollars by the Canadian Government. Caitlyn Coleman and her Children were released two months later. Boyle has been free to leave since last year but has refused to leave without them. Boyle took his pregnant American Internet bride, Caitlin Coleman, to Afghanistan looking for his Taliban "family". Boyle spent 4 years as a legal advisor to GITMO detainees trying to win their freedom. Boyle was the organizer of the "Hunger Strike" in Canada the brought national attention to Omar Khadr and won him his release from GITMO. Omar Khadr is in debt to Joshua Boyle for his freedom. Boyle is now financially set for life.

  • EarlGrayHot 00

    These people are idiots to go where they did. They put themselves in danger and they should have known better. No common sense whatsoever.

  • E Sverdrup

    I bet they're getting hounded by reporters. Too bad we allow that type of harassment.