Mayor: 'The Lord has answered our prayer'
Mayor Dorothy Baker-Hines of Macon, Mississippi
U.S. contractor Thomas Hamill, missing since last month in Iraq, escapes his captors.
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CNN's Ben Wedeman looks at how the coalition is speeding the training of Iraqi troops.
The war in Iraq is costing the United States $6 billion a month.
MACON, Mississippi (CNN) -- Residents of contractor Thomas Hamill's hometown are celebrating his freedom after learning of his apparent escape from captors in Iraq after being missing 23 days.
A family friend of Hamill's and the mayor of Macon, Dorothy Baker-Hines is promising "a parade that will never end" for his return. She joined CNN's Fredericka Whitfield to talk about the town's reaction to the news of his safety.
BAKER-HINES: Well, we're a small community. And we're all family. Just one big, happy family. And whenever someone else is in trouble, we all go to their rescue. Like I say, it was just like a member of our own family [was a hostage] ...
So we've all just come together and rallied around this family because we love them and care about them. And we stood by them and we continued to pray and have the vigils here every night at the courthouse. And you know, the Lord has answered our prayer.
WHITFIELD: You know the Hamill family. Did you always think since the beginning of this ordeal, because you know Thomas Hamill, that he is the kind of person that would exhibit this kind of bravery potentially, in the end?
BAKER-HINES: Well, from ... knowing the family the years that I've known them, I've always known Tommy just as a very humble and a good, strong man. You know when he went there to help his family and also the Iraqi people, I knew that he has the kind of heart and he's a strong person. He's a quiet man, but you know, they also say when someone is quiet that you know most of the time they're very smart.
I think he went and he knew that he faced danger, but he went anyway. And the Lord just looked after him. And we're just so thankful and we all just know that he was in the Lord's will and we're all just pleased and so happy here.
WHITFIELD: Mayor, how did you get the news of his escape?
BAKER-HINES: Well, at 6:15 this morning I was awakened by a phone call by a reporter from I believe -- I've had so many calls -- I believe it was New York, 'Do you want some good news, mayor?' And I said, 'Yes, ma'am.' She said that Mr. Hamill was free.
I just said 'praise the Lord.' I got to crying. I just couldn't control myself. But it was tears of joy. So immediately I called [Hamill's wife] Kellie's house and she happened to answer the phone. And, of course, she was ecstatic and on cloud nine. And I got us crying. I was talking so fast, she didn't really know who I was. She said, who is this?
WHITFIELD: Did she give you a sense as to what her conversation with him on the telephone was like?
BAKER-HINES: Well, when we first called, she told me she got the first call at 5:45. So I really don't know if she had talked to him between that time and the time I got the news. All I said was 'when you talk to him, Kellie, you tell him about the parade.' Then we were interrupted by the media [that] was already in her yard. I didn't get to finish talking to her.
WHITFIELD: Brigadier General [Mark] Kimmitt has already said while Mr. Hamill has spoken to his family, as you're just acknowledging there, he's also apparently giving some indication that he's ready to get back to work. Are you getting any indication whether he's planning to stay in Iraq and continue that work or will he come home first?
BAKER-HINES: I hope he'll come home first. We'd all like to get a look at him and have his parade and have some good fellowship and just praise the Lord all together. So, I hope that he will come home for a little bit.
And if he wants to go back to work, I'm sure they'll let him go.
WHITFIELD: So, I have a feeling your preparations for that parade, that endless parade is already under way. What do you have planned?
BAKER-HINES: Well, I've talked to several people today. And we're going to try to really get organized tomorrow, and, you know, call it the Tommy Hamill welcome home party and have the parade and try to have some good Southern food for him. And then maybe end up with a prayer vigil and just praise the Lord and just sing and just have a good time together in the Lord.
WHITFIELD: This whole ordeal must have been incredibly exhausting. Obviously not just for the family, but really for the entire community, all holding vigil for three weeks now.
BAKER-HINES: Yes, ma'am, it has been. But you know, hasn't a day gone by that someone had asked about Tommy or about a call or a card or an e-mail.
And I say when I arrived downtown I'm just like zip -- I'm in front of the courthouse and I see those yellow ribbons. I just say Lord be with him, be with him.
That's what everybody said, I prayed all hours of the day and the night just for a minute. And you know, the ribbons and the flags. And he's never been forgotten one minute, neither him or the family.
So it's just -- everybody's just extremely happy today. We went to church today. We just all were so excited that we could not get the Sunday school lesson done, because all we were doing was praising the Lord and 'thank you Lord for letting him be free.'
WHITFIELD: So I imagine the line is going to be rather long upon his arrival of all the folks in town who want to get a hug with him as soon as he arrives.
BAKER-HINES: And you know, he's kind of a humble and a quiet man, so it's probably going to be a -- he might be saying, all right, enough's enough.
But I know, we're just so thankful. And we appreciate the media and y'all's support. We've become friends with a lot of y'all. And y'all pray for us too and we appreciate the whole world has been praying for us. We thank you.