Girls trapped in Georgia return home

August 25, 2008 9:43:05 PM PDT
Two sisters from Howell have returned safely to New Jersey following a harrowing ordeal in the Republic of Georgia. Seven-year-old Ashley Evans and her 3-year-old sister, Sophia, arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport with their father shortly after 10 p.m. Monday, ending a trip that began as a summer holiday with their grandparents and turned into an international crisis.

The girls were stranded for nearly two weeks at their grandparents' farm after Russia invaded the former Soviet state.

The girls emerged from the airplane with their father, Joseph, and were taken by airport security for a private reunion with their mother, Tea-h, who had stayed home in New Jersey.

The family then walked together to a public waiting area where friends and relatives clapped and greeted them with balloons saying "Welcome Home."

Joseph Evans spoke briefly, thanking everyone for their support and remarking that the family would not be taking any more vacations in Georgia.

He offered special thanks to U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who had traveled to the former Soviet nation to help secure safe passage for the girls. Smith was at the airport to greet the girls.

Their mother, a chef in Howell, had not seen the girls since she left them with her parents in Georgia in early July.

She spent Monday preparing her daughters' favorite desserts - homemade ice cream and cupcakes. The desserts, she said, would be part of a special homecoming.

She said she wanted her daughters to be able to have fun - and forget how close they were to a bloody military invasion.

After Russia invaded Georgia, where Tea-h Evans was born and raised, checkpoints were set up, clamping down on movement within the country.

The girls' father said his younger daughter did not understand what was going on, but the older one did. He said she told him on the phone: "I want to go home, the Russian troops are here."

But he said the girls were able to keep playing on the farm and remained several miles from any violence.

The Evans girls were not allowed to leave until Smith, the French ambassador and others worked through diplomatic channels to get them to the relative safety of the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.

Evans, a New Jersey Transit bus driver, met his daughters at the U.S. Embassy there last Thursday, the day they made it through 10 Russian checkpoints with French Ambassador Eric Fournier.

They ate McDonald's Happy Meals when they arrived at the embassy.

It turned out that getting tickets out of Georgia was also complicated. But Monday, they were finally on their way home.

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