Family member of 3 Argentine hostages recounts anguish before release 8:00

(CNN) -- Emily Hand had to run from house to house, forced by Hamas to move as Israeli forces attacked Gaza, her father Thomas Hand told CNN.

"It's terrifying. To be pulled, to be dragged, to be pushed... probably under the gunfire," he said Tuesday.

It's one of the details her daughter is slowly sharing of what happened after she was kidnapped on Oct. 7 and taken to Gaza, a place she now calls "the box."

"She's slowly letting go, little by little," Hand said.

"We'll only know what she really went through when she speaks out," he told CNN. "I want to know so much information [...] But you have to let them, when they're ready, tell it."


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Emily, who spent 9 years in captivity, was held with her friend Hila Rotem-Shoshani and Hila's mother, Raaya, before the girls were released last Saturday.

Raaya cared for Hila and Emily as if they were her own daughters, Hand said. And Hila's separation from her mother two nights before the girls were released — in contravention of agreements reached between Hamas and Israel — was "another step of cruelty," he said.

This September 2023 photo shows Emily Hand near Kibbutz Be'eri in Israel. (Credit: Yael Shahrur Noah/AP)

From Death to Captivity to Hope

Emily was at a sleepover at Hila's house when Hamas terrorists stormed Kibbutz Be'eri. Hand remained trapped in his home for hours, unable to reach his daughter, as the community was razed to the ground, with some 130 residents dead and others captured.

About two days later, the kibbutz leaders informed him that they had seen Emily's body. He told CNN: "They just said, 'We found Emily. She's dead.' And I said, 'Yes!' and I smiled because it was the best news of the possibilities I knew... So death was a blessing, an absolute blessing."

But nearly a month later, the Israeli military told him it was "very likely" that Emily was alive and being held hostage by Hamas. Hand said the Army had been piecing together bits and pieces of information and intelligence. None of the remains found at Kibbutz Be'eri were identified as Emily's. There was no blood in the house where he slept. And Hila's family's mobile phones had been traced all the way to Gaza.

From feeling that death would be a blessing, he was now completely afraid of the conditions in which Emily was being held. "The unknown is horrible. The wait is horrible," he told CNN while she was held captive. But there was also some hope.

Video celebration of Beyoncé and the family dog

Eight weeks after seeing his daughter for the last time, Hand was informed that Emily was on the list of the second batch of hostages to be released under the temporary truce between Israel and Hamas.

He tried to contain his excitement as he reached the base where the freed hostages were being transported. There was a long delay, and then he was told he was with the Red Cross.

"Suddenly the door opened and he ran out. It was beautiful, just as I had imagined it, running together," Thomas said. "I probably squeezed her too much," he added, giving his take on the now-iconic reunion video in which he greets his daughter with his nickname "Emush."

"It was only when she took a step back that I could see that she had a thin face, like mine, whereas before she was plump, a girl, a little girl's face."

Like the other hostages, Emily lost weight, and Hand said he had never seen her so pale.

And he was startled when she spoke to him.

  • Early testimonies of hostages freed by Hamas reveal the conditions they endured

"The most shocking and disturbing thing about meeting her was that she was just whispering, she wasn't being heard. I had to put my ear to his lips," she said. "She had been conditioned not to make noise."

A father-daughter photograph released by the Israel Defense Forces shows a glimpse of the situation, Thomas said.

"You could see the terror in the glassy eyes," he said.

But he also saw a sign from the girl he knew when he offered her phone in the van as he left the delivery.

"The first thing he did was put on a Beyoncé song," she said, adding that she was also smiling and starting to laugh again.

The father brought the family dog, Johnsie, to the meeting to offer and receive his unconditional love in case Emily got mad at him for not coming to rescue her, a fear he's had since he learned she was alive.

But Emily told her father that she believed he, too, had been taken hostage.

And when he asked her how long she thought she'd been away, she replied "a year."

"Aside from the whispers, that was a gut punch. One year."

Emily Hand hugs her father in an Israeli hospital after being released by Hamas on Nov. 25. (Credit: Israeli military/AFP via Getty Images)

Deprivation, but now recovery

The hostages had enough food to survive and plenty of water to drink, Hand said. "They always had breakfast, sometimes they had lunch, and sometimes they had something in the evening."

Emily was so hungry that she learned to like eating regular bread with olive oil.

She said that "no one was hitting us" and Hand imagines that the force of the voices was enough to control her. The children were not allowed to make noise and were hardly allowed to do anything but draw and play with cards.

He is very grateful that Emily stayed with Hila and Raaya most of the time, and he takes comfort in knowing that Emily had someone to take care of her. "He took care of them as if they were his two daughters."

Emily lost her mother to cancer when she was only 2 years old. And Hand has had to tell him that his "second mother" was murdered on October 7. Narkis Hand was Hand's wife, and the mother of Emily's two half-brothers.

"It was very hard. We told him and his little eyes glared over and he breathed heavily," she explains.

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Along with her pain, pale skin and distorted face, Emily came back with a head full of lice, Hand said.

But it's slowly recovering. He tries to extend the days with his family, but when he finally goes to bed he sleeps for real.

And it hasn't gone out. "Last night she cried until her face was red and blotchy, she couldn't stop. She didn't want to be comforted, I guess she forgot how to be comforted," Hand said. "She crawled under the bed covers, the quilt, covered herself and cried silently."

She didn't want to be touched, so Hand just waited until she was ready. "She's a very determined girl, very strong, I knew her spirit would pull her through."

Emily and Hila now look out for each other, Hand said. On Monday, they celebrated Hila's 13th birthday with a cake at the hospital and also brought Emily a cake for the 9th birthday she missed in Gaza.

Thomas is now focused on two things. He must heal Emily. And he will do everything he can to get Raaya back home and all the other hostages. And she hopes the support she felt while Emily was missing will remain strong.

"We have to get Raaya back for Hila, for Emily, for justice," he said.

"Don't be silent now," he implored the world. "Bring them home, bring them home."

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