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Laura Ling's Aunt Anna relieved niece freed; Rutland relative has close family.

Byline: Lisa D. Welsh

PRINCETON - Anna Ling Pierce's niece is safely home in California, but Mrs. Ling Pierce still cries when she reads the letter Laura Ling wrote to her family from the guesthouse in North Korea where she was confined for more than four months.

"To my dear family ... Before bedtime I read your letters again. Each night I am thankful to have gotten through another day and each day when I wake up I hope it is bringing me closer to home," Laura Ling wrote in one of the two letters she was allowed to write during captivity.

Mrs. Ling Pierce said her niece was isolated, and there were many psychological and physical challenges, including being served rice with stones in it.

Family members e-mailed their letters to the U.S. State Department, and after officials read through them, the letters were printed and forwarded to a Swedish diplomat, who delivered them to her North Koreans captors, according to Mrs. Ling Pierce.

"I know she's safe, but I feel badly about what she went through," Mrs. Ling Pierce said in an interview a day after watching her brother Doug Ling and his family on television standing with former President Bill Clinton, who traveled to North Korea to negotiate the release of Ms. Ling and Euna Lee.

The two journalists were arrested March 17 on the Chinese-North Korean border. They were found guilty of illegal entry and engaging in hostile acts and sentenced to a hard labor camp for 12 years.

Mrs. Ling Pierce said her niece was a reporter for Current TV, a Vanguard media outlet popular with college students and co-owned by Al Gore. She and Ms. Lee were working on a story about human trafficking when they were arrested.

Fearing for her life, Ms. Ling confessed to a crime of doctoring the film for propaganda, Mrs. Ling Pierce said.

Because a paternal aunt holds a place of honor in Chinese culture, Mrs. Ling Pierce said she had a close relationship with her niece. Ms. Ling, 32, and her sister, Lisa, 35, visited Mrs. Ling Pierce's home often, especially when Mrs. Ling Pierce's daughter, Ali, was diagnosed with liver cancer. A picture of Ali and the two nieces at the beach holds a place of honor in her home.

"That was the day we learned Ali's cancer had returned," Mrs. Ling Pierce said.

Her daughter died in 1996 at age 14, and Mrs. Ling Pierce and her husband, John Pierce, created Ali's Army to raise money for the fight against pediatric cancer. Mr. Pierce died 11 months later from a heart attack while training for the Boston Marathon to raise money for the foundation. The foundation's name was changed to Ali and Dad's Army then and it has since raised more than $20 million for the battle against cancer in children.

Mrs. Ling Pierce made it through that difficult time with the help of her brother and nieces. "My brother and the girls were at my house at 8 a.m. the morning after he died," Mrs. Ling Pierce said. "He brought up the girls alone after divorcing their mother when they were 4 and 7," she said. "We are a very close family. It was just my boys (J.T., 24, and Mike, 21) and me and him and the girls."

Lisa Ling is widely recognized as a former panelist on "The View" television show and a special correspondent for "The Oprah Winfrey Show," National Geographic television and Anderson Cooper, but her younger sister holds her own as a television producer and reporter.

While Laura Ling was working in Mexico on a story about drug cartels, she managed to maintain her composure on camera despite passing a dead body during the filming, her aunt said. She said Ms. Ling always loved to go to remote places and both her nieces "live to make a difference in the world."

"We never talked about any close calls," Mrs. Ling Pierce said. "This one was bad, though. It was like a roller coaster ride of emotions."

After her cameraman escaped from the North Koreans and was able to report the incident to authorities, Laura Ling's family did not know if she was dead or alive for 48 hours, Mrs. Ling Pierce said

"I'd watch the news for any bit of information," she said. "After the North Koreans acknowledged that she was alive and there were charges, at least we knew we wouldn't be watching a beheading like there would be if she had been captured by the Taliban."

Mrs. Ling Pierce and her sons plan to visit her nieces and brother soon, after Laura has had time to "decompress," but she spoke with Laura on the phone at 4 p.m. Wednesday, the day she was released.

"Laura said `Auntie Anna, it's so good to hear your voice,'" Mrs. Ling Pierce said. "I was quite touched that she called only six hours after returning, but I made a point of not asking her about her captivity."

She added, "Here she is in this situation, and she's asking how everybody else is."

ART: PHOTO

CUTLINE: Anna Ling Pierce reads a letter from her niece, Laura Ling, a journalist who was recently released from confinement in North Korea.

PHOTOG: T&G Staff/JIM COLLINS
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Aug 8, 2009
Words:883
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