After two years of fighting criminal charges in Qatar over the death of their daughter, Matthew and Grace Huang are nearly back home in Pasadena.
"I just had a picture sent to me of Matt and Grace on the plane headed home and it was quite emotional for me," said Rosemead Pastor Jonathan Wu. "I'm ecstatic."
He recalled telling his congregation Sunday that the couple's conviction in the death of the 8-year-old girl had been overturned and their travel ban had been lifted. But, he told parishioners, there was one problem: Their passports were being held and they couldn't leave the country.
"There was an audible gasp in our congregation," Wu recalled.
But the panic was short-lived. On Tuesday, the Huangs' relatives and supporters announced the pair had boarded a U.S.-bound jet and were headed home to Los Angeles after the prosecutors' case collapsed on appeal and the U.S. State Department pleaded for their release.
"This news is both welcome and very long overdue," said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) in a statement. "Now exonerated by the Qatari court of appeals, the Huangs are finally coming to the end of this Kafkaesque nightmare, which compounded the tragedy of their daughter's death."
Grace Huang's brother, Daniel, has attended Wu's church and has been updating the congregation on his sister's case in Qatar. The Rosemead congregants have donated money and prayed for the Huangs since they were arrested following their young daughter's death from an eating disorder in January 2013.
FOR THE RECORD
A previous version of this post said Daniel Huang is a member of Wu's church. He has attended the church but is not a member.
The closely watched case had drawn high-level expressions of concern from the Obama administration, with Secretary of State John F. Kerry appealing directly to the Qatar government to let the couple leave after they were exonerated.
U.S. envoy Dana Shell Smith escorted the couple herself to the airport Sunday, hours after the court dismissed their conviction, but they were turned back at passport control, and their supporters feared authorities might be preparing new charges against them.
But on Tuesday evening, the U.S. Embassy said it had been notified by Qatari authorities that no further legal action was pending and that the Huangs had been cleared to travel.
They will be reunited with their two other young children, also born in Africa, who were returned earlier to the United States. The Huangs spent nearly a year in jail before being handed a three-year prison term last year. They were released on their own recognizance during the appeals process, but not permitted to leave the country.
"Matt and Grace Huang are wheels up from Qatar," U.S. envoy Dana Shell Smith wrote on Twitter. "Emotional. These are the moments all diplomats live for."
Matthew Huang, an engineer, had brought the family to Qatar after he was hired by a private company to work on infrastructure projects tied to the Gulf state's planned hosting of the 2022 World Cup.