Friends of Laura Ling share their experiences
The Sacramento Press has followed the timeline of journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee since their detainment in North Korea, covering some of the vigils that took place in Sacramento.
Ling was born and raised in Carmichael and her ties to the Sacramento community brought enormous support for the two women throughout their ordeal.
Following Bill Clinton’s visit with Kim Jong Il, Ling and Lee were pardoned and allowed to return home. The Sacramento Press interviewed two of Ling’s friends to hear what it was like for them during Ling’s absence.
Cheryll Marsh and Stephanie Tomasegovich met Ling in seventh grade at Barrett Middle School in Carmichael. Marsh met Ling through the school’s drill team and Tomasegovich met Ling because of their shared love of New Kids on the Block.
Friendships made in middle school proved to be instrumental in the campaign and efforts to get Ling and Lee back home safely.
On March 17, when Ling and Lee were arrested on charges of spying and illegal entry into North Korea, both Marsh and Tomasegovich heard the shocking news while at work. Tomasegovich came across the story via the Internet and Marsh’s mother called her on the phone.
“I was in complete shock, in disbelief,” Marsh said. Her first thought was, “How do we get her out?”
“I didn’t believe the severity of it,” Tomasegovich said.
“I was going to do something," Marsh said. "I wasn’t going to just sit around.”
Tomasegovich sent a letter to Michelle Obama appealing to her as a mother, since Lee is also a mother of a girl.
Marsh sent letters to officials in North Korea and to President Barack Obama pleading for the release of the two journalists. Both women sent numerous postcards to Ling, and Marsh wrote emails to Ling even though she knew she wasn’t able to read them.
One of her emails read, “I’m thinking about you. I think about you every single day.”
Both Marsh and Tomasegovich were put under the media spotlight because of their friendships with Ling. The two spoke on radio programs and at the vigils in Sacramento.
Tomasegovich was not a fan of all the media attention. “I did not like it," she said. "I was unprepared, [but] I did it for Laura.”
Tomasegovich made bracelets similar to the Live Strong bracelets. She passed out the baby blue bracelets that said “Keep Hope Alive” to everyone she knew and sent them to Lisa Ling, Laura’s sister, in L.A.
For Tomasegovich, the most difficult part was a feeling of helplessness. She said she hated not being able to help Ling and wondering what her family was feeling every minute of the day. She also felt guilty about having her life continue to go on knowing what Ling was going through.
Marsh said the most difficult part of Ling being away was not knowing anything, especially at the beginning. She admitted it was very discouraging because no one knew what to do.
"The turning point [was] when I met with an old friend of the Ling [family], a friend of Laura’s and Lisa’s mom at a cafe in San Francisco," she said. "I had a new sense of purpose. [I thought to myself] stop being sad, there needs to be action!"
On Aug. 4, the news of Ling and Lee’s release reached the two friends.
Marsh described her reaction as “the most amazing feeling.” She said that their release was “a dream that I kept on playing in my head,” and her heart lifted when the dream became a reality.
Tomasegovich was in the midst of a trial as a juror. She received the news from her brother while on her lunch break. She yelled out to the jury, “You guys, she’s coming home!”
She also made it a point to tell the judge presiding over the trial. “The judge announced it to the court and everyone cheered,” Tomasegovich said.
Both friends agreed that the media played a huge role in keeping the Ling and Lee story on the public’s mind and in bringing them home.
“As much as people hate the media, the more they were annoying, the better it was for them,” Tomasegovich said.
Tomasegovich recently lost her job and her sister-in-law pointed out that everything happens for a reason. Had she been employed full-time, she might not have been able to appear on TV and speak on the radio.
In a Facebook message, her sister-in-law said, “Life needed you and you were there.”
Both women have been celebrating the safe return of their long-time friend, but neither have spoken to or seen Ling since her return.
“She needs her privacy,” Marsh said.
“She’ll give me a call when she’s ready," Tomasegovich said.