Updated 1:07 p.m.: Couple held in Qatar since daughter's death stopped again
The Los Angeles couple trying to return to the United States after a Qatari court acquitted them in the death of their adopted daughter was reportedly stopped from exiting the country for the second time.
Matt and Grace Huang were blocked from leaving the Doha airport on Sunday, hours after they had been cleared of wrongdoing, and they were denied departure again on Monday, according to their representative.
Eric Volz of The David House Agency has been assisting the Huangs in Qatar and released a statement on behalf of the couple:
"Today in Qatar, Matt and Grace Huang were once again barred from leaving the country. After being found innocent yesterday morning of all the charges leveled against them, they are still not allowed to return to their home in Los Angeles.
"We continue to plead with the U.S. Ambassador to Qatar Dana Smith, the Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama to call the Emir of Qatar to free these two innocent American citizens.
"It is important to note that all the proper paperwork has been filed to allow them to leave Qatar. Any statements blaming Matt and Grace for these latest delays are not based in truth."
Volz spoke with NPR Monday about the latest developments around the case.
5:30 a.m.: Pasadena church rallies around Huangs
The church community of Matt and Grace Huang is anxious for their swift return to the United States after they were exonerated in the death of their adopted daughter in Qatar.
The Huangs attempted to leave the Gulf nation Sunday, hours after a Qatari appeals court cleared them of any wrongdoing. But at the Doha airport, they were barred from departing, despite being personally escorted by U.S. Ambassador Dana Shell Smith.
"Parts of me are angry but mostly I’m just sad," said Pastor Bill Mead of the Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena. "My heart just aches that they’re close to being home. And it was stopped."
In 2012, the Huangs had moved to Qatar so Matt could work on an engineering project for the World Cup the country is scheduled to host in 2022.
Their legal ordeal started in January 2013, when their daughter Gloria died suddenly. Qatari officials accused the couple of starving the 8-year-old to death and leveled charges of child endangerment against them. The Huangs maintained their daughter had an eating disorder resulting from her days in a Ghana orphanage.
"I knew immediately the charges were false and they needed to be released," said Audrey Durden of Pasadena. "I knew the hearts of Matt and Grace."
Durden taught Sunday school to Gloria — "just a sweetheart" — and her two brothers, all born in Africa. Qatari officials had raised questions around why the Huangs, who are of Asian descent, would adopt children of another race.
"It's been a real roller coaster ride," Durden said. "But I think through all of it, we have to keep praying, keep praying, keep praying."
Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement he is pushing the Qatari government, a key ally in the Middle East, to lift the travel ban on the couple.
The Huangs released a statement through the David House Agency, a group that specializes in "international crisis."
This morning we were found innocent by the Qatari court and the judge's ruling even granted us permission to travel home. This afternoon we had hoped to board an airplane and head home to Los Angeles. However, this evening we are still in Doha after being denied exit from Qatar. We just left the airport after waiting all day for the U.S. government to help us get out of Qatar. We have been told we cannot leave the country and the U.S. government has no answers as to why. We now sit waiting for the Qatar government to make the next move.
The last two years have been a nightmare. We have begged the U.S. Ambassador, the Secretary of State and even President Obama to call the Emir of Qatar and fix this ongoing injustice. We have been waiting two years for something to be done by our own government. Our requests are being ignored and we are beyond frustrated.
Eric Volz, managing director of the David House Agency, was with the Huangs at the airport and tweeted about a "huge showdown."
In Pasdena, Pastor Jeff Mattesich updated those attending Sunday services about the latest twists and turns in the Huangs' case.
"Matt and Grace are relieved overall though disappointed at today's turn of events," Mattesich said. "The only certainty for Matt and Grace is they won't be returning to the States today, and they request our continued prayer."
Mead said that the Huangs were a well-liked and active family in the church. Because of its large size — services regularly draw more than 500 people — the church encourages members to get together in smaller groups. He said the Huangs chose a group of older adults because they wanted their adopted children to "have a sense of what it was like to have grandparents around them all the time."
"The children were gracious, they were fun, they engaged with you, the adults," Mead said. "It was a beautiful scene to watch."