Thomas Wesley Murry, former hostage and new neighborhood hero, stood outside his Newbury Park home before microphones, television cameras, reporters, friends and relatives, nervously clutching a folded sheet of paper with both hands.
Then, as friends say he is wont to do, he began wryly: "Well, it's been a hell of a long trip. Seems like I had a little delay on the way home from the office."
The "delay" was the 16 days he spent as a hostage after the hijacking of a TWA jet to Beirut. Finally returning home early Wednesday, Murry gave the 1:20 a.m. press conference at his house, then retired inside, where he said he would spend most of the holiday weekend with his wife, Jeanne, and some of the relatives and friends.
"I'm back, and, oh, ever so thankful," Murry, 58, told the crowd of about 50 who greeted the limousine that took him home from Los Angeles International Airport.
Friends described Murry, a Northrup Corp. field services engineer, as a quiet, introspective man, and Jeanne Murry suggested that her husband was not the sort of former hostage to suddenly become a public person in the wake of his unchosen fame.
"He's going to be in the house the next few days, with just me," she said, smiling.
Murry also suggested that he would not be the sort of former hostage who would argue the case of his captors.
"I think I understand some of their motives," he said. "I don't agree with them."
Murry said the first days of the hijacking were "pure terror." He said he was hit three times in the back of his head by a hijacker as he crouched low in his seat.
Help in Coping
Friends who greeted Murry speculated that his sense of humor and thoughtful manner would have helped him cope with the experience.
Murry is a "cool, calm and collected" man who says little and rarely becomes emotional or aggravated, said Marjorie Berg, a friend of more than 20 years. She also described him as an independent person, who two years ago changed his name to Thomas Wesley from Warren Earl simply because he was tired of the old name.
"I rather think Tom is the kind of person who will go on, no matter what," Berg said. She said Murry was "more verbal at the press conference than I've seen him in probably 20 years."
Larry Schwartz, another good friend of Murry and a fellow Mason, also was surprised by the early-morning performance. "That's the most I've heard out of him at the fastest clip I've ever heard," Schwartz said.
Many in the group greeting the former hostage were members of the Conejo Players, a local community theater group to which Murry also belongs.
Berg, who works with the troupe, said Murry has mostly done backstage and technical work, although he has had small, non-speaking parts in productions of "Pygmalion" and "Man of La Mancha." It was a picture of Murry with a beard grown for his La Mancha role that was first shown to the public after the hijacking.
But Murry had no whiskers when he arrived Wednesday. "He knows better than to come home with a beard," his wife said.
No Work This Week
Murry's relatives and friends predicted that he would not return to work until next week at the earliest. Glenn Channels, Murry's supervisor at Northrup, was not so sure, especially since Murry took the time to call from Germany after being released to check in with the company. But, Channels said, "We've told him we don't want to see him" this week.
Murry is an expert on the electrical systems in drone target planes used in missile and anti-aircraft practice. He travels the world for the company, inspecting and repairing the products.
Channels said plans will likely be firmed up Monday for a celebration at Northrup's Newbury Park offices. The defense contractor paid for the limousine that met Murry at the airport.
Other welcome-home events are also planned, said Thousand Oaks Mayor Lawrence E. Horner, a fellow Northrup employee. The City Council on Tuesday night approved a resolution proclaiming today as "Thomas Wesley Murry Freedom Day."
The council also approved the installation of several signs around town welcoming the former hostage home, Horner said.
Relatives and friends predicted that, for several days, Murry will be trying to better understand his recent adventures, some of which he recounted to reporters in an eager, yet slow voice during the 20-minute press conference.
Once the hijacked aircraft made its final stop in Beirut, most of the hostages were turned over to a Shia Muslim faction that he said was more moderate and sensitive than the original hijackers.
But he said one of the most terrifying moments came when he and a small group of hostages were later driven into an underground parking lot, where their guards pointed to a "big, blank wall." "The Valentine's Day Massacre occurred to me," he said.
Murry and seven other hostages, nicknaming themselves the "Crazy Eights," were eventually placed in an apartment with two twin beds, he said. They remained together for several days until they were driven to Damascus and eventual freedom, he said. During that time, the captors generally treated them humanely, he said.
Berg said that, after the press conference, Murry loosened up and spoke freely to friends and relatives inside the house, as if on "some sort of verbal adrenaline. . . . He seemed eager and willing to talk, laugh and joke about what happened."
Berg said that Murry proudly displayed a glass cup he used during most of his captivity, but that he lamented not being able to bring home a brick to place in the walkway of his front yard. During their many travels together and separately, Murry and his wife have made a tradition of bringing home bricks.
The end of the hostage crisis lifted the pressure on Murry's relatives, who worriedly had scanned television news reports for hours for a glimpse of him.
Mariann Robertson, Murry's 31-year-old daughter who flew from Oklahoma to comfort her mother and ended up as the family spokeswoman, stood in the front yard with a cold beer in the early morning darkness.
Robertson said that, when she saw her father leave the plane at the airport, away from the main terminal, "I didn't say a word, I just grabbed him. I'm sure he's changed, but he's still my daddy."