Tim Grigsby, who has been buddies with the married father of three for 10 years, told CNN his friend was happy to be out and overwhelmed by the support he has drawn from the residents of West Frankfort
, a mining town of 8,000 people.
Grigsby and some other friends drove to Missouri to bring Hernandez home. Hernandez's family couldn't come to pick him up because one of his sons was sick, Grigsby said.
There was to be one stop on the way home, La Fiesta, the popular restaurant where Hernandez is a manager, for some Mexican food Hernandez has been craving.
Hernandez had been locked up for 20 days after being arrested by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents during a sweep that targeted another person. Hernandez remained in detention because of two DUIs and faced possible deportation.
But on Wednesday, he was released on a $3,000 bond issued by a federal immigration court in Missouri.
According to The New York Times, which observed the proceedings, Hernandez's case was bolstered by letters from community leaders. "You don't typically see this kind of documentation," Judge Justin W. Howard said.
Grigsby told CNN that Hernandez, 38, was overwhelmed by the letters of back from the town, which is in a county that backed Donald Trump for president.
"I'm very proud of my hometown, it's unbelievable the amount of support. But in reality it's not. This is a story about an individual that's remarkable," Grigsby told CNN, adding that Hernandez was too worn out to talk to the media.
His attorney, Victor Arturo Arana of Austin, Texas, also was there to greet Hernandez upon his release.
Arana said he doesn't anticipate his client, who is going through the process to become a lawful permanent resident, will be detained again while they wait on a court date.
Given the backlog in immigration courts, Arana is hopeful that by time a date is scheduled, Hernandez will be close to getting a green card.
The fact that Hernandez is married to a naturalized citizen also played a role in his release, Arana said.
Hernandez and his wife, Elizabeth have three children. He has lived in the United States as an undocumented immigrant since coming from Mexico.
Not everyone in town has been supportive of Hernandez, after learning he lived illegally in the country for nearly two decades. He has to follow the law, go through the immigration process, some residents said.
"No matter how good a person you are, illegal is illegal," Amanda Mays said.