Freed Canadian hostage Joshua Boyle says his three children are quickly adapting as the family spends their first full day in Canada, after five excruciating years being held captive in Afghanistan.
"We have reached the first true home that the children have ever known after they spent most of Friday asking if each subsequent airport was our new house hopefully," Boyle told CBC, after a day of travel that included flights to London and then Toronto.
Boyle's U.S.-born wife, Caitlan Coleman, gave birth to the children while they were being held by guards in the Haqqani network, a group closely tied to the Taliban.
"We know nothing is instant — but after five years, it's so difficult to accept that everything isn't magically perfect just because you're no longer being brutalized," he said.
In response to emailed questions, Boyle told CBC's Susan Ormiston how his three children were reacting to freedom.
He said the eldest child, Najaeshi Jonah, 4, is "exuberant; honestly freedom seems to have cured half his ills instantly, he's running around examining all the gifts compiled over the years."
The Boyle family arrived in Smiths Falls, Ont., with his parents, Linda and Patrick Boyle, early Saturday morning after a transatlantic flight beginning in Pakistan, before flying from Heathrow Airport to Pearson International Airport in Toronto. Before Boyle and his wife were abducted, they had been living in Perth-Andover, N.B.
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"Najaeshi Jonah is examining Post-it notes and curtains and paints and board games, remote controls, everything in the house is a wonderland to him," wrote Boyle. "That said, he's terrified to leave the house, even just to go on the porch...it's as though he thinks if he ever exits this magical wonderland it will all end...."
Boyle and his pregnant wife embarked on a hiking trip through Central Asia more than five years ago. They visited several countries before ending up in Afghanistan, where Boyle has said they were helping "ordinary villagers" in Taliban-occupied territory.
'Everything reminds him of the horrors of prison'
Boyle said Saturday that his middle child, Dhakwoen Noah, 2, is more fearful, "nearly as distressed as he was in prison, it seems everything reminds him of the horrors of prison; cameras are equated to hostage videos, pens are equated to syringes used to drug his parents with ketamine by the guards, slamming doors is associated with cell searches or worse, it seems his healing process has barely begun — so we pray that God will hasten it."
Late Friday night at Pearson airport, Boyle made a brief and stunning statement that the guards who held them had "murdered his infant child," a fourth baby, and raped his wife. He said his youngest surviving child — Ma'idah Grace, who is about five months old — had health problems. An earlier report said she needed to be force-fed by their rescuers.
"Ma'idah Grace seems scared most of the time, but also to have discovered there are more decent people in the world than she knew; her world until last week consisted of two good brothers and two good parents and about 15 guards of increasing fear to her," Boyle said in his email to CBC.
"The ratio has swung towards decent people now and she loves it when a relative she didn't know existed is now singing to her, rocking her to sleep or hugging her. It's like she's discovered half a dozen exciting new founts of love."
Boyle confirmed his daughter had a cursory medical exam Friday night in Canada, and that her chances "seemed miraculously high." All of the family will receive full medical checkups soon, and he says "God willing, the healing process — physically and mentally can begin."
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid on Sunday denied the accusations that Boyle's wife was raped and a child of theirs was killed.
"We strongly reject these fake and fabricated allegations of this Canadian family, now in the hands of the enemy," he said in a statement sent to media.