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“He’s just grateful to be home, and he’s just thanking God for his safe return,” his cousin Ron Odom said.

In Washington, the Department of State welcomed the news of Gomes‘ release, saying officials are “relieved that he will soon be safely reunited with his family,” spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

It was unclear what led Gomes to enter the repressive nation. He may have been emulating fellow Christian Robert Park, who was detained after he crossed into North Korea in December to highlight its human rights record, said Jo Sung-rae, a South Korean human rights advocate who met with Gomes. Park was expelled some 40 days later after issuing an apology carried by North Korean state media.

Gomes attended rallies in Seoul in January calling for Park’s release and was arrested in North Korea just two weeks later.

Gomes, whose full name is pronounced EYE’-jah-lahn GOHMZ’, grew up the inner-city Boston neighborhood of Mattapan, then headed to college at Bowdoin in Maine before going to South Korea to teach several years after graduating.

He was the fourth American in a year arrested for trespassing in North Korea, which fought the U.S. during the 1950-53 Korean War and does not have diplomatic relations with Washington. Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were arrested last March and released only after former President Bill Clinton made a similar trip to Pyongyang to plead for their freedom.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed Gomes‘ release and commended Carter. He took the occasion to appeal to donors for emergency humanitarian aid to North Korea, which has been affected by recent flooding, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said at U.N. headquarters in New York.

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Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Jay Lindsay in Boston, Matthew Lee in Washington, Carol Druga in Atlanta and Edith Lederer in New York.