Trevor Reed, a Marine veteran who was freed from Russia as part of a prisoner exchange with the United States on Wednesday, has arrived back on his home soil in Texas.
The prisoner exchange, an unexpected development at a time of high tensions between Russia and the West, involved trading Reed for a convicted Russian drug trafficker serving a long prison sentence in America.
Reed touched down in Texas early Thursday morning. He and a group of others landed at Kelly Field in San Antonio at 12:33 a.m. CT, NBC News confirmed.
The 30-year-old Marine veteran from Granbury was arrested in the summer of 2019 after Russian authorities said he assaulted an officer while being driven by police to a police station following a night of heavy drinking. He was later sentenced to nine years in prison in Moscow, though the U.S. government described him as unjustly detained. His family maintained his innocence and expressed concern about his declining health — which included coughing up blood and a hunger strike.
After a small welcome on the tarmac, a group receiving Reed walked inside a hangar and remained there for a few minutes before loading onto buses and swiftly leaving through a back gate.
"This is the moment we have all been praying for," Rep. August Pfluger said in a tweet, posting photos from the scene welcoming home his constituent.
“To see him in person, to meet him in person, to be able to just share a few words with him was really special," said Pfluger.
Pfluger said he spoke briefly with Trevor, describing him as gracious and grateful for all of the help to bring him home.
“To understand the geopolitical environment that exists and then to think this is possible. When he stepped off that airplane, it gave everyone chills and was just a joyful moment and special moment for this country, to be quite honest," he said.
Outside Reed's family's home in Granbury Wednesday afternoon, his parents Joey and Paula briefly spoke with the reporters, saying they only had a few details and hoped to learn more as he neared the United States.
"We're happy. It's a great day for us and for Trevor. We're just looking forward to seeing him," Paula Reed said. "Finally after waiting all this time I'm going to be able to hug my kid, put my arms around him ... I'm just excited to see him."
The couple expressed concern about Trevor's health, noting he appeared "very thin," was walking strangely and seemed to need some assistance getting onto the plane. Paula Reed said her son was accompanied by medical personnel on the plane.
"The biggest issue is his health," Joey Reed said. "We anticipate him going to a military hospital."
U.S. officials have not released any details about Reed's condition.
At news conference Wednesday evening, the Reeds said they believe it could be weeks before Trevor is healthy enough to return home.
They thanked members of the Department of Defense and State Department who were treating Trevor on the plane out of Turkey, and also the lawmakers from both sides of the aisle who've rallied around them.
“When these foreign countries or terrorist groups take Americans, they don’t care whether you’re a Democrat or Republican. You’re an American. We need to stand together and when somebody attacks us, we need to come together. That’s what we’ve done in our son’s case and we want the president, not just this president, all presidents, to do that for all Americans in this situation," said Joey Reed.
TEXAS MARINE VETERAN RELEASED FROM RUSSIAN CUSTODY IN PRISONER EXCHANGE
The deal announced by both countries involving Trevor Reed, imprisoned for nearly three years, would have been a notable diplomatic maneuver even in times of peace. It was all the more surprising because it was done as Russia's war with Ukraine has driven relations with the U.S. to their lowest point in decades.
The U.S., for its part, returned Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot who'd been serving a 20-year federal prison sentence in Connecticut for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the U.S. after he was arrested in Liberia in 2010 and extradited to the U.S. The Justice Department has described him as "an experienced international drug trafficker" who conspired to distribute thousands of kilograms of cocaine around the world.
Despite Reed's release, other Americans remain jailed in Russia, including WNBA star Brittney Griner and Michigan corporate security executive Paul Whelan.
The exchange took place in Turkey, Reed's father, Joey Reed, told CNN.
"The American plane pulled up next to the Russian plane and they walked both prisoners across at the same time, like you see in the movies," he said.
The swap seemed unlikely to herald any larger breakthrough between Washington and Moscow. A senior Biden administration official cautioned that the negotiations centered on a "discrete set of prisoner issues" and did not represent a change to the U.S. government's condemnation of Russia's violence against Ukraine.
"Where we can have discussions on issues of mutual interest we will try to talk to the Russians and have a constructive conversation without any way changing our approach to the appalling violence in Ukraine," the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the administration.
President Joe Biden, who met in Washington with Reed's parents last month, trumpeted Reed's release and noted without elaboration that "the negotiations that allowed us to bring Trevor home required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly." The Russian foreign ministry described the exchange as the "result of a long negotiation process."
A lawyer for Yaroshenko, who last year sought a reduced prison sentence because of Yaroshenko's vulnerability to COVID-19, did not immediately return an email seeking comment Wednesday.
Russia had sought Yaroshenko's return for years while also rejecting entreaties by high-level U.S. officials to release Reed, who was approaching his 1,000th day in custody and whose health had recently been worsening, according to his family.
A senior U.S. official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter by name and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity, described Reed's case as one of "utmost priority" for the Biden administration. His family said Reed's poor health included symptoms of tuberculosis.
"It was a difficult decision but one that we thought was worth it," the official said.
Though officials would not say where the transfer took place, in the hours before it happened commercial flight trackers identified a plane belonging to Russia's federal security service as flying to Ankara, Turkey. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons also updated its website overnight to reflect that Yaroshenko was no longer in custody.
Reed was en route back to the U.S., traveling with Roger Cartsens, the U.S. government's special presidential envoy for hostage affairs.
"Today, our prayers have been answered and Trevor is on his way back safely to the United States," Reed's family said in a statement.
The prisoner swap was the most prominent release during the Biden administration of an American deemed wrongly detained abroad and came even as families of detainees who have met over the last year with administration officials had described the officials as cool to the idea of an exchange.
The U.S. government does not typically embrace such exchanges for fear that it might encourage foreign governments to take additional Americans as prisoners as a way to extract concessions and to avoid a potential false equivalency between an unjustly detained American -- which U.S. officials believe Reed was -- and a properly convicted criminal.
In this case, though, the U.S. decided the deal made sense in part because Yaroshenko had already served a long portion of his prison sentence, which has now been commuted.
The Reed family thanked Biden "for making the decision to bring Trevor home" as well as other administration officials and Bill Richardson, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who the family said traveled to Moscow in the hours before the Ukraine war began in hopes of securing Reed's release.
The Reed family had also been working with a consultant, Jonathan Franks, who has been involved in other high-profile releases, such as the case of Michael White, a Navy veteran freed from Iran in 2020.
Reed's release had no immediate impact on the cases of other Americans held by Russia. Griner, for one, was detained in February after Russian authorities said a search of her bag revealed a cannabis derivative. Whelan is being held on espionage-related charges his family says are bogus.
U.S. officials have described Whelan as unjustly detained, and Biden said Wednesday "we won't stop until Paul Whelan and others join Trevor in the loving arms of family and friends."
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Reed's parents demonstrated outside the White House last month in hopes of getting a meeting with the president and scored a rare private meeting with Biden and administration officials. They had stood weeks earlier along his motorcade route during a presidential visit to Texas in hopes of attracting his attention, then later demonstrated outside the White House to ask for a meeting.
"We believe that that meeting with the president is what made it happen," Joey Reed told CNN. "Which is what we had said all along -- if we could just speak to the president, he's that kind of person."
When he is reunited with his son, the father said, "I want to hug him and not let him go."
TREVOR REED'S FAMILY'S STATEMENT
Statement by Joey, Paula, and Taylor Reed
Nelson Mandella once said, “it always seems impossible until it is done.” For the past (nearly 1,000) days, Trevor has been wrongfully detained for a “crime” the U.S. Ambassador to Russia has said “obviously did not occur” and our family has been living a nightmare. Today, our prayers have been answered and Trevor is safely on his way back to the United States.
For much of this ordeal, Jonathan Franks has been at our side every step of the way and we would not be here today without his help. Aside from our own family, no one has worked harder or contributed more than Jon to bring Trevor home. We’re also grateful to Montel Williams for his support and for allowing Jon to spend so much time on Trevor’s case.
First and foremost, we’d like to thank President Biden for his kindness, his consideration, and for making the decision to bring Trevor home. The President’s action may have saved Trevor’s life.
We’d also like to thank Ambassador John Sullivan and the Moscow Embassy staff for believing in Trevor’s innocence and for their zealous advocacy. Similarly, we’d like to thank NSA Jake Sullivan, Alexandra Miller (NSC), and Victoria Bonasera (Consular Affairs). In particular, we want to thank Roger Carstens’ SPEHA team, including Fletcher Schoen, Steven Gillen, and others. We can’t say enough about the importance of the work they do every day for hostages and wrongful detainees.
We’d like to thank our wonderful Congressman, August Pfluger for his unwavering support, Congressman McCaul, Senator Cornyn, Congresswoman Jackson Lee, Leader McCarthy, Congressman Castro, and so many others who worked together in a bipartisan manner to bring Trevor home.
We are also grateful to Governor Bill Richardson and Mickey Bergman for traveling to Moscow in the hours before the Ukraine war broke out in an effort to win Trevor’s release.
There are so many people in the media that we want to thank for their genuine concern for Trevor’s situation. In particular, we’d like to thank ABC’s Patrick Reevell and CNN’s Jake Tapper.
While we understand the interest in Trevor’s story – and as soon as he’s ready, he’ll tell his own story, we’d respectfully ask for some privacy while we address the myriad of health issues brought on by the squalid conditions he was subjected to in his Russian gulag.
Finally, we stand proudly with the Whelan family and all the other families of wrongfully detained Americans who are still waiting for their own release moment. We will continue to advocate for the rapid release of hostages and detainees using all tools available to the United States government.
PRESIDENT BIDEN'S STATEMENT
Statement from President Joe Biden on the Return of Trevor Reed
Today, we welcome home Trevor Reed and celebrate his return to the family that missed him dearly. Trevor, a former U.S. Marine, is free from Russian detention. I heard in the voices of Trevor’s parents how much they’ve worried about his health and missed his presence. And I was delighted to be able to share with them the good news about Trevor’s freedom.
I’m grateful for the tireless and dedicated work of Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens, U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation John Sullivan, and many others across our government to ensure that Trevor came home safely. The negotiations that allowed us to bring Trevor home required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly. His safe return is a testament to the priority my Administration places on bringing home Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad. We won’t stop until Paul Whelan and others join Trevor in the loving arms of family and friends.