WACO, Texas — From Baylor's campus to local LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, emotions are running high as Brittney Griner is released from Russian prison.
Griner has been in custody in Russia since late February when she was arrested under drug-smuggling charges after authorities say they found hashish vape cartridges in her luggage.
"After nearly ten months, we are thrilled and relieved to hear the long-awaited news of BG's return. Today is the day we've been praying for, and we will continue to pray as she reunites with her family and begins recovering from her experience," Baylor Women's Basketball head coach Nicki Collen said in a statement on Thursday morning.
Univeristy president Linda Livingstone and Vice President and Direct of Athletics, Mack Rhoades, also released a joint statement on Griner's release:
“Brittney Griner is a member of our Baylor Family, and we are extremely grateful that she is on her way back home to the United States. We praise God this day has finally come. Our hearts go out to Brittney and her family as they have endured months of separation, and we continue to pray as she recovers from this incredibly challenging time. While we celebrate Brittney’s release, our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to fellow American Paul Whelan and his family, as well as all Americans unjustly imprisoned overseas – that they will be freed and can return home safely and promptly.”
Carmen Saenz, president and founder of LGBTQ+ organization InterWaco told 25 News on Thursday that Griner had been very active in the community during her time in Waco.
"One of the things that Brittany brought to our community was just kind of a sense of being able to be who you are and being accepted, in the athletic community and in the greater community, and I know she was a big advocate for a lot of kids," Saenz said.
University Baptist Church in Waco had planned to host a "Vigil of Hope" for Griner on Dec. 19. After news of Griner's release, organizers have decided to turn it into a celebration for Griner with a vigil for other prisoners abroad, including Paul Whelan.
"It doesn't feel real, and yet—it is. I can't wait to see her on American soil," said co-organizer Sheryl West Loeung.
The service is open to the Waco and Baylor community and is scheduled for Dec. 19 at 6:30 p.m. at 1701 Dutton Ave.