Lori Berenson, the daughter of Manhattan academics whose story has captivated New Yorkers since she was convicted in Peru of aiding a leftist terrorist group, touched down on American soil Tuesday morning for the first time in 16 years.
Her mother, Rhoda Berenson, craned her neck in anticipation as she waited at Newark Liberty International Airport carrying a brown Bloomingdale’s bag stuffed with a puffy warm coat for Lori Berenson’s son, Salvador, 2, who was conceived during a conjugal visit with Ms. Berenson’s husband in prison.
Asked what her daughter most wanted to see in New York, Rhoda Berenson said, “I think it’s us.”
Lori Berenson’s parents had visited her frequently in Peru, but on this visit, dozens of relatives will be seeing her for the first time since her conviction and will be meeting Salvador for the first time.
Pushing a luggage cart and flanked by police officers with Salvador trotting beside her, Ms. Berenson pushed past a throng of news reporters with such focus that at first she walked right by her mother.
“Thank you,” was all Ms. Berenson said as she slid into the back seat of a car driven by a male relative wearing a Yankees cap. She buckled Salvador, clutching a stuffed orange parrot, into his car seat, and they sped off.
“Happy holidays!” Rhoda Berenson shouted.
It was an image far removed from the one that Lori Berenson projected soon after her arrest, when she gave a defiant, fist-waving speech in support of the Tupac Amaru rebels, a leftist militant group, which cemented her image as a dangerous radical for many Peruvians.
Ms. Berenson has always maintained her innocence, saying that she was an idealist drawn to the cause of the Peruvian poor but never supported violence or intended to aid a plot by some of her associates to attack the Peruvian parliament, an attack that never took place.
According to testimony during her trial, Ms. Berenson voluntarily helped with logistics and information and used the house she had rented as a base for the operatives.
While in prison, she married Aníbal Apari Sánchez, who had been convicted of being a member of the group and was granted conjugal visits during his parole. Mr. Apari, who is Salvador’s father, serves as her lawyer.
Ms. Berenson is out on parole, but is technically still serving a 20-year sentence, which is due to be completed on Nov. 29, 2015. Last week, a Peruvian court gave her permission to travel to the United States. She is supposed to return by Jan. 11, and there has been widespread concern in the Peruvian news media that she will not go back.
Once this travel permit ends, Ms. Berenson will be required to report to various legal authorities in Peru, including the Criminal Court, the Provincial Criminal Court and the National Penitentiary.
At Newark Airport, Rhoda Berenson, a professor at New York University, said her daughter intended to return. She said the family would celebrate the holidays and her husband’s 70th birthday. She declined to comment on the case, saying, “This is not a political time for us. ”
She said that they had no special plans and that her husband, a professor at Montclair State University in New Jersey, was at work, administering final exams.
“We’re just going to go home,” she said. “I’m very excited. ”