In a township hall near Shakopee on Sunday, the hikers released this fall from an Iranian prison gave public thanks to the community for its support -- and one quietly shared news of an upcoming celebration:
Shane Bauer, a Minnesota native who proposed to Californian Sarah Shourd while they were in prison, told a reporter the couple will wed May 5 in the San Francisco area.
Sunday's open house took place at the Jackson Township Hall, a few miles from the home of Al Bauer, Shane's father. Joining Bauer and Shourd was fellow hiker Josh Fattal, 29, who was released along with Bauer in September after 26 months in the Evin prison in Tehran. Shourd had been released a year earlier.
"We are grateful for the community supporting us so much," especially through fundraisers that were held, said Shane Bauer, 29.
"The community was the lifeblood of the Free the Hikers campaign," Shourd said.
That campaign helped send the hikers' family members to Washington, D.C., to publicize their plight and lobby for their freedom.
The three friends, who met in college in Berkeley, Calif., connected in Damascus, Syria, where Bauer worked as a freelance journalist and Shourd taught English. They walked unknowingly into an international political incident in July 2009 while on a hiking vacation in the Kurdish region along the Iran-Iraq border. They were arrested by Iranian officials, jailed and charged with illegally entering Iran and with espionage, charges they denied. Shroud was released because of poor health a year before the two men.
Bauer and Fattal were tried and convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison in August of this year. But after $1 million in bail was posted in a deal mediated by Oman, they were freed a month later. The hikers have said they were held because of their nationality.
Since their release, Fattal said, the hikers' support network has made it "10 times easier to adjust from being a hostage to being a citizen."
Al Bauer, 54, helped arrange Sunday's gathering, which offered an assortment of potluck dishes spread around tables, a classic Minnesota scene that highlighted the stark contrast with the hikers' incarceration thousands of miles away.
Several hundred people stopped to eat and talk to the hikers.
"I just wanted to say thank you to all the people who helped," said Al Bauer, who runs a machinery repair and sales shop nearby.
He said his son has talked briefly about prison life but isn't ready to speak publicly about it.
One of those on hand Sunday was Laureen Wermerskirchen of Prior Lake, who gave Al Bauer hugs of support when he needed them. She was one of the first to hear when the two hikers were freed in September.
"Al called me and I drove right over there [to Bauer's house] and we hugged and cried," she said.
Jim Adams • 952-746-3283