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GOLD MINER RETURNS HOME AFTER 61 DAYS IN CAPTIVITY

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Only a few friends were on hand to greet gold miner Scott Heimdal when he returned home after 61 days held captive by Colombian rebels in the Amazon jungle, but Peoria planned a larger celebration for him this weekend.

Heimdal, who will celebrate his 28th birthday Thursday, and his mother, Marge, returned home Monday night, stepping off a commuter flight to the sound of applause of a few people and the glare of television lights."I'm really glad to be home. I miss Peoria," he said as he embraced his sisters, Linda, 27, and Angie, 21, at the Peoria Regional Airport.

Both Heimdal and his mother wore red T-shirts with the legend "I Love Peoria."

Marge and her husband, Roy, spent two weeks in Quito, Ecuador, negotiating with their son's captors and eventually persuading them to accept the $60,000 ransom raised in the United States. Scott Heimdal was released Friday.

"They asked me (in Ecuador) if it would play in Peoria," Marge Heimdal said. "I told them it would."

Mayor Jim Maloof, a long-time family friend of the Heimdals, had no apologies for the small welcoming party at the airport. "The family had wanted to not make this a spectacle," he said. "It's not a time for that. It's a time of appreciation for the fact the young man is home and safe."

Heimdal thanked those who helped raise the ransom sought by his kidnappers. "I owe them a debt I won't be able to repay," he said.

Heimdal said his ordeal has not left him without affection for the region. "I do plan on returning, but I don't know when, and it won't be mining," he said. Heimdal said he resigned his mining job.

Heimdal's sisters said they prepared an Italian dinner for their brother, noting that Heimdal reported in one of his letters home that he was surviving on armadillo and monkey meat.

Scott Heimdal said he had a taste for something different, however. "I need junk food," he said. "That's what I need, junk food."