FLINT (WJRT) - (01/21/16) - He spent more than four years in an Iranian prison, but Thursday, Amir Hekmati came home to Mid-Michigan.
Hekmati landed at Flint's Bishop Airport around 4 p.m. Thursday.
His family had been hoping and praying for this day for several years.
Hekmati's family says he was in Iran visiting his grandmother when he was arrested. The Iranian government accused him of being a spy. They held the U.S. Marine prisoner, in what's being called one of the world's worst prisons.
Hekmati was finally freed last weekend. His first stop was Germany for medical evaluation.
The public was invited to come and help welcome Hekmati home, and the community geared up for his arrival as well. Around the airport, several electronic billboards along I-69 and I-75 simply said "Welcome Home Amir."
Through the past four years, the 'Free Amir' website and Facebook page also brought Hekmati's situation to the world and kept pressure on leaders to act. From the #FreeAmirnow hastags, to rallies right here in Mid-Michigan, the community made sure he was not forgotten.
Amir Hekmati's father, Ali, was a professor at Mott Community College until he suffered a stroke and had other health problems. The family had been trying to reunite Ali with his son before it was too late.
Just this past August, Ali was able to tape a touching message to Amir. In the message, he says, "I miss you very very much. I can't wait to reunite with you, hug you, kiss you and go places with you."
He says he can't wait to go to their favorite restaurant together, eat good food and have fun.
Hekmati spoke briefly when he got off the plane, saying, "I appreciate everyone's support. It's great to be back in Flint, my hometown. I love this city, I love its people, they've been so good to me, my family, and we're very grateful. Happy to finally be home. It's been a very long road, a very long journey. Many people have traveled this road with me. But despite all the difficulties, thank God for everyone's support. Everyone from the President, Congressman Kildee, everyday Americans. I'm standing here healthy, tall and with my head held high. I'm glad to be here and I appreciate everyone's support."
After leaving the airport, Hekmati got out of his vehicle to thank fellow marines and veterans who greeted him with hugs and handshakes.
Many of the Marines and veterans we spoke to had tears in their eyes waiting for him to arrive, and when they finally met him, they were very happy. We caught up with some of them who say they're honored to have finally met him and are glad he's back.