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Tuesday, 11 June, 2002, 10:52 GMT 11:52 UK
Freed US hostage welcomed home
Gracia Burnham arrives in Kansas
Gracia was reunited with her three children
US missionary Gracia Burnham, who was rescued from more than a year in captivity in the Philippines jungle last week, has received a warm homecoming in Kansas.

Martin was a source of strength... He was a good man and he died well

Gracia Burnham on her husband
"This must be one of the happiest days of my whole life," Mrs Burnham said, as she was cheered by well-wishers waving flowers and holding "Welcome Home" signs.

"It's good to be home. Keep praying for me and my kids as we begin to rebuild our lives," said Mrs Burnham, 43, whose husband Martin died in a military operation to rescue the couple and a Filipina nurse, Ediborah Yap, from their captors - the Abu Sayyaf rebels - on Friday.

Mrs Burnham herself was shot in the right leg, and arrived at Kansas City airport in a wheelchair, where she was reunited with her three children, aged 15, 12 and 11, who have been living with their grandparents in Rose Hill, Kansas, since the kidnapping.

Hometown welcome

The family then returned to Rose Hill, a small town 15 miles (24 kilometres) from Wichita, where hundreds of people lined the main street to welcome Mrs Burnham home.

Gracia Burnham with her youngest son, Zach, 11
Mrs Burnham was shot in the leg during the rescue

Yellow ribbons were tied to trees and American flags lined the drive to the house.

The body of 42-year-old Martin Burnham was being flown home separately for a memorial service on Friday.

His widow paid tribute to him, saying: "Martin was a source of strength to all the hostages. He was a good man and he died well."

'Peaceful' end

Family members have said Gracia Burnham may have been saved when Martin fell over her after he was shot.

"She thought she lay there for about 20 minutes," Gracia's younger sister, Mary Jones, said in a television interview before Mrs Burnham left Manila.

"She said that it was very peaceful and she was glad that she was able to be with him when it happened."

Mrs Burnham was found silently weeping next to her husband's body when she was rescued.

The couple had worked in the Philippines since 1986 for the Florida-based New Tribes Mission. Martin was a pilot, flying supplies and missionaries, and Gracia handled radio communications.

They were kidnapped in May 2001 from a tourist resort as they celebrated their 18th wedding anniversary. They were held by the Abu Sayyaf for a year and 11 days - the longest period foreigners have ever been held captive in the Philippines.

The US has said there are links between the Abu Sayyaf, who claim to be fighting for an Islamic state in the southern Philippines, and Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

But Mrs Burnham, on her release, denounced the group as "common criminals".

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