‘Welcome home Brittney’: Mayor Turner lights Houston’s City Hall red, white, and blue as Brittney Griner makes her way back to the US

HOUSTON – There have been mixed emotions around the world about the news of Brittney Griner’s release from a Russian prison, while another U.S. citizen, Paul Whelan, remains “wrongfully detained” in the penal system abroad. Although bittersweet for some, local leaders are celebrating the safe return of the Houston area native.

According to White House officials, Griner’s release was the result of painstaking negotiations across the U.S. government.

After months of being wrongfully detained under intolerable circumstances, Griner is currently on her way home to her wife Cherelle, and her family. She will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones as she should have been all along.

The White House said Griner’s release demonstrates President Joe Biden’s resolve to bring home wrongfully detained Americans.

“Through every step of this process, the President sought to bring Paul Whelan home as well, with negotiations done in good faith with the Russians and multiple options proposed. This was the only deal available at this time. While we celebrate Brittney’s homecoming, we remain committed to seeing Paul Whelan released,” a statement read. “The Biden Administration will not stop working to bring home every U.S. citizen wrongfully detained anywhere in the world. As the President has said, it remains a top priority.”

KPRC 2 Legal Analyst Brian Wice says Russia got the better deal.

“They traded an all-star arms dealer who has done less than a 25-year sentence in federal prison for a civilian WNBA all-star,” Wice said.

Griner’s high school basketball coach Debbie Jackson is relieved that she is free.

“It’s the best Christmas ever. I’m so excited for her family, for her wife. Anybody that knows Brittney knows that this is just an answer to our prayers. It’s wonderful that she is going to be coming back to the US,” Jackson said.

Here are some of the well wishes that are pouring in from our local leaders:

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner

“Even in a time of major conflict between Russia and the United States, positive things can and do still occur. I am pleased that Houston Native and WNBA Player Brittney Griner is coming home. Tremendous thanks to President Biden, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and many others who worked tirelessly to bring Brittney home. Tonight, City Hall will be lit up in Red, White and Blue in her honor. Welcome Home Brittney.”

Commissioner Rodney Ellis:

“I’m filled with joy this morning to hear that Brittney Griner is coming home to Houston. Thank you to President Biden and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee for their tireless efforts to make this happen and for allowing her to spend the holidays with her family.”

Aldine ISD

“Aldine ISD has been made aware that Brittney Griner has been released from custody and is on her way back to her loved ones in the United States. This is amazing news for Brittney, her family and her present and past teammates.”

U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX)

“After nearly ten months under wrongful detention, I am relieved that Houston-native Brittney Griner will finally return home. Brittney has endured unimaginable suffering under the Russian regime, and I am eager for her to be safely reunited with her family on American soil.

“I’m disappointed that the Biden Administration failed to secure the release of additional U.S. citizens in the exchange. President Biden must continue to press for the release of all Americans wrongfully detained by our adversaries, including Paul Whelan and Austin Tice.”

Congressman Colin Allred (TX-32)

“After months of uncertainty and facing the cruelty of Russia’s sham justice system – Brittney Griner is coming home. This is welcome news and a huge relief for Brittney and her family.

“I commend President Biden, Secretary Blinken, the State Department, our bipartisan coalition in Congress, and everyone else who made Brittney’s release happen and for never giving up.

“Every day an American is detained abroad is a lifetime, and we remain committed to getting Paul Whelan and every American detained abroad back home.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Lead Republican Michael McCaul:

“I am relieved that Ms. Griner will be returned home safely. However, trading Viktor Bout – a dangerous convicted arms dealer who was in prison for conspiring to kill Americans – will only embolden Vladimir Putin to continue his evil practice of taking innocent Americans hostage for use as political pawns. Moreover, my heart breaks for Paul Whelan and other wrongfully detained Americans in Russia. They must not be forgotten.”

KPRC 2 will update with more statements as they become available.

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About the Authors:

Mother of two. Award-winning lover of digital storytelling, sparked by my fascination of being a fashionable gossip like my favorite "Willona Woods" character from "Good Times." On the serious side, president of the Houston Association of Black Journalists and dedicated community servant. Happy to share the news with you each and every day!

Emmy award winning journalist born and raised in Alabama. College football fanatic and snow cone lover! Passionate about connecting with the community to find stories that matter.