Freed Hostage to Relive His Family’s Milestones : Reunion: His daughter in Thousand Oaks says she felt ‘a certain emptiness’ while Alann Steen was imprisoned.
Jackie Scardino of Thousand Oaks was married in 1988, but her father couldn’t walk her down the aisle.
Her son, Jordan, was born on Valentine’s Day the following year, but his grandfather couldn’t welcome him into the world. Her sister, Becky Monday, also was married and gave birth to a son--but they, too, passed their milestones while Alann Steen was chained to a wall in Beirut.
“There was a certain emptiness I felt--my father was missing,” said Scardino, 30, as she sat in her townhouse Tuesday, scanning the TV news for a glimpse of her father, who had finally been freed by his captors.
“Now I don’t feel as empty and frustrated as I did before. My son has a grandpa. Now I have a dad I can call.”
After nearly five years of heartache, of undying faith tempered by frequently dashed hopes, the Steen family finally glimpsed their patriarch via satellite as he told a news conference in Syria that it felt great to be free.
Relatives were taken aback by his gaunt and pale face, but said they never doubted that the former Marine--who once squared off against a grizzly bear while on a solo backpacking trip in Alaska--would survive his ordeal.
As Scardino watched her father on television, she beamed as he laughed with reporters. But she fought back tears as she described the vibrant man she last saw in the summer of 1986 and the changed man on the screen.
“His face looked old. He looked thinner,” she said. “He’s gone through a lot. It’s going to take a long time to heal.”
The family was frustrated and angry at how little the U.S. government did to negotiate for the hostages’ freedom, Scardino said.
“It took way too long,” she said. “It seems like they forgot about them.”
Steen, a Beirut University journalism teacher, was abducted in early 1987.
One of the darkest moments came when the family learned that Steen had tried to escape and was beaten when he was caught.
“Many days I felt, ‘Oh, how long is this going to go on?’ ” said Steen’s third wife, Virginia, who teaches art history at Albion College near her parents’ home in Clark Lake, Mich. “But you can’t give up hope. If Alann, chained to the wall for five years, not seeing daylight, could keep himself going--that’s what kept us going.”
On Tuesday, the couple--who were married just six months before Steen’s abduction--spoke on the phone.
“It was incredible to hear his voice, to know that this is finally, finally over,” she told reporters, her face flushed and voice trembling. “We’re still pinching ourselves.”
Asked in Damascus if he had a message for his wife, Steen said: “I love her. I miss her.”
In the college town of Arcata in Northern California, where the 52-year-old Steen had taught at Humboldt State University and edited a small newspaper before heading to Lebanon, word of his release ignited spontaneous celebrations.
“I’m on top of the world!” said Monica Hadley, who owned the weekly Arcata Union when Steen was editor there in the late 1960s. “He looked awfully worn and thin when I saw him on TV this morning, but I could tell the old Alann Steen was still there. I could see the sparkle.”
On the university campus, the college newspaper--The Lumberjack--scrambled to work the story of Steen’s release onto today’s front page, and students swapped tales about the school’s most legendary professor.
“Most of us don’t know him, but there’s still a strong connection with Alann because of his history here,” said Rhonda Crisp-Foster, a Humboldt senior who writes for The Lumberjack. Word of his release Tuesday “was not only a big story for us, it also caused a lot of emotion around here.”
About 300 miles south of Arcata, Steen’s other daughter Becky Monday told reporters outside her Los Banos tract home that she hoped that her father would settle again in California. When asked what she had learned from the ordeal, her husband, Jim, piped in: “Patience. Tolerance.”
“Impatience. Intolerance,” quipped his wife, 29, a former paramedic. “Maybe a little bit of both.”
Jim Monday, also a paramedic and firefighter, who married Becky Monday 3 1/2 years ago after proposing to her over the emergency band radio, said he had never met his father-in-law, but admires traits in his wife that he assumes were inherited.
“I’m eager to meet that man who had that influence,” he said.
On Tuesday, the entire family was preparing to board a flight to Germany, courtesy of the U.S. State Department, where they were to be reunited with the former hostage. Scardino, an elementary school teacher, said she would take the opportunity to tell her father that she is expecting her second child in June.
Steen’s wife said she would pack his favorite snack.
“The most important thing now is that Alann get all the care and pampering and pleasure of sleep and rest that he needs,” she said. “He’ll probably want a tall glass of milk and some Hydrox cookies.”
Also contributing to this story were Times staff writers Dan Morain in Los Banos and Jenifer Warren and Jesse Katz in Los Angeles and Times researcher Amy Harmon in Detroit.