KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Matthew Heath, a Marine Corps Veteran and East Tennessee native who was freed after being imprisoned in Venezuela for over two years, was reunited with his family over the weekend.
Video shared with WATE by his family shows family members embracing Heath at a hospital in San Antonio, Texas on Sunday.
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Heath was among seven Americans freed by Venezuela in exchange for the release of two nephews of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s wife who had been convicted on drug charges.
“We never lost hope, we’ve always had confidence that we would get Matthew home,” Trudy Rutherford, Heath’s aunt, told WATE.
Rutherford said they were contacted by the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs and personally spoke with President Joe Biden, who informed them that Matthew was coming home and would undergo a full medical evaluation at a hospital in San Antonio.
“Matthew called me and his mother and said that he was in the Bahamas at the time and he was getting ready to get on a plane to head to San Antonio, and he asked us if we were going to meet him there,” she said.
Heath was arrested in September 2020 on allegations of espionage and terrorism. The U.S. State Department disputed the charges and had classified Heath as, “wrongfully detained.”
“It was hard to believe. We’ve been hearing, ‘Matthew’s coming home’ several different times, and we got all excited just to be let down that he was not actually on the plane,” Rutherford said. “So when we actually heard, ‘Yes he is on the plane,’ it was like letting air out of a balloon. Just thank God that it’s true this time.”