- "Help Jessica get through this," Professor Glenn McClure used to say
- She has been passionate about Africa, college president says
- Jessica Buchanan and Poul Thisted were rescued overnight
Friends reacted with relief and joy Wednesday to the news that 32-year-old aid worker Jessica Buchanan had been freed after three months in captivity in Somalia.
"We are overwhelmed with gratitude," said Don Meyer, president of Valley Forge Christian College in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, from where Buchanan was graduated in 2007.
She and her colleague, Poul Thisted, 60, were rescued by U.S. special forces in an overnight raid in which nine gunmen were killed, the U.S. military said Wednesday.
Buchanan's family has declined to speak about the rescue until after they speak with her, but others who know her portrayed her as someone passionate about making a difference.
It may have been that passion that led her to a job as a regional educational adviser for the Danish Refugee Council's demining unit.
She had attended a couple of other institutions before settling in at Valley Forge Christian College. There, she undertook one of the school's most rigorous academic programs, early childhood education.
It was a semester of student teaching in Nairobi that opened Buchanan's heart to Africa.
"She did a semester of student teaching in Africa and that experience just planted in her a love and passion for Africa," Meyer said.
That proved to be a turning point in her life.
"She could hardly talk about Africa without tears in her eyes," he said.
The school where she served as a student teacher -- the Rosslyn Academy in Nairobi, Kenya -- hired her once she was graduated and she worked there as a classroom teacher for two years.
Meyer said that, around this time, Buchanan met the man who became her husband and switched jobs.
According to the Danish Refugee Council, Buchanan and Thisted were kidnapped in the town of Galkayo in central Somalia on October 25 during a visit to a project site in the area.
Officials said that Buchanan's declining health triggered the rescue operation, but Meyer, who spoke with her family Wednesday, said those reports are overstated.
"She is strong, she is healthy, she is in very good condition," he said.
The Valley Forge Christian College community, with about 1,100 students in suburban Philadelphia, kept close tabs on the aid workers' kidnapping, he said.
They were advised of the incident by the family from the beginning, but were asked to avoid mentioning it publicly.
Meyer said they were made sure the cameras that broadcast online the school's daily services were turned off when they prayed for Buchanan.
Buchanan presented Prof. Glenn McClure with a carved elephant after a return from Kenya to thank him for helping her land her teaching job, he said. "It's on my bureau and I see it often," he told CNN. "I just breathe a prayer; say 'Help Jessica get through this.'"
Prof. David Scolforo's daughter, Christine, is a friend and former roommate to Buchanan. "Every day you woke up wondering, 'Is this the day she's going to be free or this this going to be the day when you get news saying she's not coming home forever?'" he said.
Some of her college friends said they did not even know Buchanan had been kidnapped until news of her rescue broke.
"It was a shock, tears of sadness that that happened to her and tears of happiness that she was rescued by the Navy SEALs," said Clarimil Christian-Delker, who studied with her.
Buchanan is a devoted Christian whose passion for helping those less fortunate took her to Africa, Christian-Delker said. "Every time we spoke about doing God's work overseas, her eyes would light up," she added.
The women met nine years ago, and when Christian-Delker faced a family tragedy, Buchanan encouraged her via Facebook. Christian-Delker said she did not suspect that Buchanan's recent silence on the social media site was a sign that she was living out her own tragedy.