Finally home

Airport reunion ends businessman’s African ordeal

“I didn’t think this day would ever come.  I love the United States, I love this state.  I love my family.” Mark McCabe

Weeks of anxiety for the McCabe family of Slidell ended in a joyful reunion at Louis Armstrong International Airport on Monday evening as Mark McCabe, released after two months of detention in South Sudan, came home.

Bearing signs welcoming the 52-year-old businessman back, his wife, Anne, daughters Danielle and Whitney and 2-year-old granddaughter Delaney waited with other family and friends at the end of the concourse in front of a bank of cameras.

“Who’s coming home?” one passenger wondered aloud as she walked past the restless group. Then silence fell as Anne McCabe said, “I see him.”

She ran up the concourse and the two embraced, followed by a crush of hugs and kisses from other family members.

Mark McCabe looked slightly dazed as he took in the sight of his family.

“Oh man,” he said “Wow.” And finally, “I’m here.”

Then he gathered himself together and quipped, “Are you sure we’re not still in Africa? I didn’t think this day would ever come. I love the United States, I love this state. I love my family. I don’t know Mr. Vitter, but I’m going to shake his hand.”

Sen. David Vitter had worked to secure McCabe’s release since McCabe was taken into custody in mid-October by South Sudan’s National Security Service, which accused him of trying to kidnap an Indian businessman. All charges against McCabe were dropped late last month, and he was cleared to leave the country by the South Sudan government Thursday.

“This has been just a horrible incident, and I’m pleased to know that the South Sudanese government did the right thing, and Mark is returning home to Louisiana,” Vitter said.

During McCabe’s detention, Vitter sent letters to South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, urging him to ensure that McCabe received due process. Shortly thereafter Vitter asked the president to allow McCabe to be evacuated to Nairobi to see a cardiologist, as urged by his doctor in Juba. McCabe, who had a major heart attack a year ago, suffered another heart attack while in jail.

Anne McCabe said that her husband had told her he would not feel safe until he was in the air, a feeling that she shared. Monday morning, her anxiety was confined to his physical health.

She was also looking forward to her son, Christian, getting back from his job offshore to be reunited with this father.

“I’m sure he won’t let his dad out of his sight,” she said.

For McCabe, the arrival home meant meeting the media as well as his loved ones. A reporter asked if he knew why he had been arrested.

“I had 40 days in prison to think about that, and I still haven’t figured it out,” he said.

Another reporter asked him what he thought about his wife’s tireless efforts to win his freedom.

“She’s running for office,” he joked. “It was all a plot for me to be arrested so she could run.”

During his imprisonment, McCabe said his thoughts focused on one thing — getting out. He said he was in four different prisons during his ordeal.

“I met a lot of people,” he said, and paused, his face grave with reflection. “But I kept my faith, I kept my belief, and I knew my wife was fighting for me. And here I am.”

McCabe said that he wanted a shrimp po-boy, and the family, who had been brought to the airport in a stretch limousine with an escort from Slidell Police Chief Randy Smith, left for the final leg of McCabe’s trip home.