Lolita Lebron, one of four Puerto Rican nationalists who shot up the U.S. House of Representatives 23 years ago Tuesday, was greeted here today as a national heroine by thousands.
Lebron was brought here last night by federal marshals after President Carter ordered federal prison officials to allow the 57-year-old Nationalist Party leader to attend the funeral of her only daughter, who died two days ago from injureies suffered in an automobile accident.
Some 500 supporters of Puerto Rican independence from the United States had maintained a vigil for more than four hours last night at San Juan International Airport in hopes of getting a glimpse of the woman who has become a symbol of national pride for many of the 3.2 million people of this U.S. commonwealth. Lebron was whisked off immediately from the airport ramp by marshals, however.
This morning, the primly dressed, youthful-looking radical spokeswoman was escorted to the small family dwelling in this northwestern Puerto Rican town where the body of her 36-year-old daughter, Gladys Mendez Lebron de Vilar, lay in state.
One of Lebron's sympathizers who had maintained an all-night vigil at the Barceloneta home quoted Lebron as saying when she entered the house of her deceased daughter: "I am strong. There will be no weeping here."
Lebron then reportedly asked a mourner for a small Puerto Rican flag. She was carrying the flag more than three hours later when she was rushed into a waiting car en route to a church service in town and the burial ceremonies at the Barceloneta municipal cemetery.
As the procession entered the cemetery around noon, cries of "free Lolita, free the others," were heard from the hundreds of mourners already present near the burial site.
The chant referred to four other Nationalist Party activists serving time in federal prison along with Lebron since the 1950s. Three of the others accompanied Lebron from New York to Washington on March 1, 1954, for the terrorist escapade that resulted in the wounding of five congressmen.
Lebron's dramatic visit here - she was expected to be flown back to the United States tonight after being rushed away from the cemetery by federal marshals - is viewed here as adding to pressure for presidential amnesty for all five Nationalist Party prisoners.
It comes on the heels of publicity surrounding the case of Andreas Figueroa Cordero, one of Lebron's followers, who is dying of cancer in a Springfield, Mo., prison.
Cordero's plight has provoked braod-based support here for pardoning all five Nationalists.
Even conservative pro-statehood leaders such as Senate President Luis A. Ferre, a former island governor, have added their voices this week to the campaign for amnesty.