Eight American missionaries charged with child kidnapping in Haiti returned to the U.S. aboard a military cargo plane early Thursday after almost three weeks in a Haitian jail.
Two others remained detained in an ordeal sparked by the group's attempt to take 33 children out of the earthquake-stricken country.
About 12 hours after a Haitian judge approved their release, the missionaries arrived on a U.S. Air Force C-130 just after midnight at Miami International Airport. They declined to answer reporters' questions as they briskly walked into a hotel adjoining the airport and got into an elevator.
They spent a night in hotel beds at the airport before some were seen heading to gates for morning domestic Delta flights.
Silas Thompson, 19, of Twin Falls, Idaho, said it was "great" to be back on U.S. soil and said the first thing he'll do when he gets home is hug his mother.
He spoke to reporters as he walked to the Delta terminal Thursday morning after emerging from the hotel with three other men, who all declined to identify themselves or answer questions.
Elated relatives expressed relief upon their return, including Sean Lankford of Meridian, Idaho, whose wife and daughter were among the eight released. When asked how he felt late Wednesday, he offered two words: "Damn good."
Parents volunteered children: judge
The group's swift departure from Haiti began Wednesday when Judge Bernard Saint-Vil said eight of the 10 missionaries were free to leave without bail, because parents of the children had testified they voluntarily gave their children to the missionaries believing the Americans would give them a better life.
"The parents gave their kids away voluntarily," Saint-Vil said in explaining his decision.
He said, however, that he still wanted to question the group's leader, Laura Silsby, and her former nanny, Charisa Coulter, because they had visited Haiti prior to the quake to inquire about obtaining orphans.
The missionaries, most from two Baptist churches in Idaho, were charged almost three weeks ago with child kidnapping for trying to take a group of children out of the quake-stricken country.
They were accused of trying to take 33 Haitian children to the Dominican Republic on Jan. 29 without proper documents. Their detentions came just as aid officials were urging a halt to short-cut adoptions in the wake of the earthquake.
The missionaries said they were on a humanitarian mission to rescue child quake victims by taking them to a hastily prepared orphanage in the Dominican Republic and denied accusations of trafficking.