An American couple detained in Qatar before being cleared in the death of their 8-year-old daughter attended a church service in Southern California where worshippers greeted them with a standing ovation.
Matthew and Grace Huang were called to the dais at the Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena shortly after the 9 a.m. service began. The couple stood in front of the congregation hugging their two surviving children amid sustained claps and cheers.
Matthew Huang briefly addressed the congregation, saying he was thankful to be home.
“The situation the past two years has been extremely difficult,” he said. “It has taught us patience.”
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The Huangs gained international attention when Qatari authorities arrested them in January 2013 on charges of starving their African-born daughter, Gloria, to death.
The couple, who are of Asian descent, had adopted Gloria in Ghana when she was 4 years old, and are the parents of two other adopted, African-born children.
The Huangs spent nearly a year in jail and were convicted of child endangerment. An appeals court judge overturned their conviction last week and said they could leave Qatar.
Throughout the case, the family’s representatives expressed concern that there were cultural misunderstandings underpinning the charges against the couple in a nation where Western-style adoptions and cross-cultural families are relatively rare.
An initial police report raised questions about why the couple would adopt children who did not share their “hereditary traits.”
Prosecutors said the couple denied food to their daughter and locked her in her room at night. The Huangs said Gloria suffered from medical problems complicated by an eating disorder that was the result of her impoverished early years in Africa.
The Huangs spent several months behind bars before their case was heard for the first time in November 2013.
The couple and their children moved to Qatar in 2012 after Matthew Huang was hired to work as an engineer as part of preparations for the 2022 World Cup in Doha.