Open arms after Arlington man’s ordeal in Mexican jail

ARLINGTON — Ed Chrisman has quite a story to tell.

For people who know him, it’s still hard to believe the 89-year-old grandpa spent more than two months in a Mexican prison.

About 100 people gathered at Arlington Heights Community Hall on Sunday afternoon to welcome Chrisman home and hear about his journey. Stories and hugs were exchanged over cake and coffee.

“Have I got a story for you,” read the opening page of a scrapbook sitting on a table by the entrance. Cards, photos and newspaper clippings tucked inside told the story of the past three months: A calendar with 65 days circled in red illustrated the agonizing wait; a handwritten note from an unknown, faraway donor revealed the hope.

Ed Chrisman returned to his Arlington home about a week ago. He isn’t quite himself yet, said grandson Paul Chrisman. His nightmares linger, but he has gained back the 20 pounds lost in Mexico.

Ed Chrisman was wintering in Yuma, Ariz., when, on Jan. 8, his grandson Gary Chrisman Jr. invited him along for trip across the border to a dental appointment. Ed Chrisman had made that trip dozens of times over the years. This time, both men were thrown in jail after being accused of approaching a 13-year-old girl in her mother’s convenience store and asking to take a sexually explicit photograph.

Ed Chrisman never entered that store.

Gary Chrisman told his family he went into the store and took a few photos of fully-clothed girls with their mother’s permission. He gave the woman $25, but she demanded more. When Gary Chrisman refused, she called the police.

Gary Chrisman remains in jail awaiting trial.

On Feb. 9, a Mexican judge said Ed Chrisman could go home. But wasn’t released until March 14, when the court paperwork reached the Mexicali prison where he was being held. He spent 65 days in jail. His family spent thousands of dollars trying to get him out.

They even worried Ed Chrisman wouldn’t survive when he fell ill during his time in jail.

“It feels like we live in a movie,” Paul Chrisman said. Ed Chrisman told his story in pieces, Paul Chrisman said. “There is a lot he doesn’t want to say.”

Chrisman’s face appeared on TV and in papers countless times. He never expected to receive this kind of attention, Paul Chrisman said of his grandfather. But he’s been patient.

Since the ordeal began, the Chrisman family has received letters, phone calls and donations from people they haven’t heard from in years — and people they don’t even know. “It’s very surreal,” Paul Chrisman said.

The Chrisman case sparked heated debate on both sides of the border.

The news that Ed Chrisman would be coming back brought relief and a sense of pride to his friend Steve Swanson of Marysville. “He was such an inspiration for everybody while he was there,” Swanson said as waited his turn to sign the guest book.

The now-famous Arlington grandpa beamed, shaking hands with friends and family members. “I didn’t think I’d ever be home again, I really didn’t,” Ed Chrisman said.

While in jail, he slept a lot and kept occupied as much as he could to keep his sanity. His eyes grew dark when he talked about some of the men he met in prison. He made friends there, too. And he made new friends here.

Neighbor Larry Stickney didn’t know Ed Chrisman well. But when he heard of the family’s plight, Stickney decided to come forward. Stickney worked to gain support of local politicians and helped get the word out. “I would hope that if it was me, my neighbors would do the same,” he said.

Katya Yefimova: 425-339-3452, kyefimova@heraldnet.com.

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