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CNN Larry King Live

Interview With Heather Mercer & Dayna Curry

Aired November 27, 2001 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: We begin in New York -- we know their parents, they have been on the show -- Heather Mercer, the U.S. Christian aid worker freed from the Taliban; she's a native of Vienna, Virginia; and Dayna Curry, in the same position, freed as well; she is a native of Nashville, Tennessee.

What, Heather -- the obvious -- what were you doing in Afghanistan?

HEATHER MERCER, FREED TALIBAN PRISONER: Well, we went to serve the Afghan people through relief and development projects. We did different development projects, building homes for refugees, doing food distributions around the country. And then just Dayna and I personally trying to serve Afghan women and children outside of our home.

KING: Dayna, have you done this in other places around the world?

DAYNA CURRY, FREED TALIBAN PRISONER: Yes. I worked in Uzbekistan for two years and actually there, that is where I heard about the need in Afghanistan, all the different widows that were there and all the poverty and that made me want to go and serve there.

KING: Now, in serving, were you also, Heather, doing what might be termed missionary work? Were you converting people?

MERCER: Some people might use the word. But I would say it another way. Obviously, we are Christians. And who we are is people who love Jesus. And so it is a natural overflow of our lives when, in a culture where religion is of the highest priority, you come daily to conversations dealing with issues of faith. And it is just a natural progression in relationship, even -- and daily greetings, saying hello and good-bye. In the Muslim culture, they often use different religious blessings in that context. So, to discuss religion in their culture is not a strange thing.

KING: But, Dayna, you were charged with preaching Christianity. So we get this straight, is to proselytize a faith -- is that illegal?

CURRY: Yes. But their definition for proselytizeing -- they really believe that giving aid to make people change their religion. That is what they consider proselytizing. And we are completely 100 percent innocent of that. We were just trying to love people and serve them and help them anyway we could.

KING: Dayna, you were surprised that you were arrested?

CURRY: Very. It was quite a shock.

KING: How did it happen? Tell us what happened, Dayna.

CURRY: We were just visiting an Afghan family. The beggar children, everyday, were on our street, asked us every single day to come and to visit their family and to -- so we just went that one day to visit them. And we had equipment with us to show a movie, if they wanted to, and they asked us when we went there if they could see it.

And so we showed the them the film. And when I left there, there were Taliban men waiting there to take us. So I don't know, we said -- we think it might have been a setup. We are not really sure.

KING: Heather, was the film a religious film?

MERCER: Sure, it was a film on the life of Jesus. Jesus in the Islamic faith is one of the four holy prophets of Islam. And Afghan people are fascinated with movies. This particular family is very interested to see the story of the life of Jesus. And so, on their request, we did show it to them.

KING: Now, Dayna, were you tried in a court?

CURRY: We initially started and we had a lawyer. And he had -- did the case for us and had a good defense for us, excellent. But then once the bombing started they stopped the court and it never finished.

KING: So you never did have a trial?

CURRY: No, we didn't.

KING: The person defending you, was he in the Taliban?

CURRY: No, he was from Pakistan. But he had -- he actually favored the Taliban. I mean, he didn't disagree with them and talked well about them the entire time.

KING: Where were you, Heather, on September 11?

MERCER: Well, of course, we were in our first -- one of four -- the first of four prisons. We were there, Massoud had just been assassinated the day before. And so we were sitting in prison just processing that the day we found out of the terrible tragedy that happened on September 11.

KING: Now, you had to know, Dayna, that there would be some sort of retaliation. Did you fear that your own country might well bomb you?

CURRY: Well, I mean, it was really scary when the bombs came close, and even there was a couple times our doors were flung open and the windows flung open from the bomb that was pretty close by. But we had some information, that I can't really explain, but we had some information that our government knew where we were. So that made us feel more secure.

KING: Were you able, Heather, to be in touch with your parents?

MERCER: We were. That was really one of the highlights of our whole time there. We had two opportunities to talk via satellite phone with our parents, one through the foreign ministry and the second through our lawyer. And that was really great. It was -- we needed to be able to stay in touch with our parents. And those were really special days during that time.

KING: How long were you actually, Dayna, in prison?

CURRY: For 105 days.

KING: How were you treated?

CURRY: Considering the circumstances, really well. If I would have known I was going to be in an Afghan prison, I would have expected it to be a lot worse. And they really did give us the best that they had and they treated us reasonably well.

Larry: They didn't question you at length? They didn't torture you in any way? Were you given good food?

CURRY: For their standards, it was pretty good. But, of course, what we are used to wasn't -- it was hard. They cook with a lot of grease and things like that. So we were not really used to that type of food. But they gave us the best they had. And we are thankful they treated us so well.

KING: Were all of you aid workers, Heather, together?

MERCER: Yes, we were. The six ladies were together in one particular room in each of the four prisons. And then the men were separated on the men's side of the prison.

KING: Had there been a trial, Heather, and if you had been found guilty, what was the punishment?

MERCER: That's a good question. I don't think we know the answer to that. We heard rumors of all sorts of things. But there was no telling what the end result would be. So we are thankful that we are here today and -- we are just really thankful that we are here.

KING: Dayna, did you know that your parents were going on programs like this and that you were -- you and your friends were being talked about in this country?

CURRY: I didn't know it until they my mom came and visited us and Heather's dad came too. And so they were able to share with us some of the press and the coverage we were getting. And we were just amazed that anyone really cared about us or what we were doing and quite surprised and really touched that so many people were praying for us. And -- yes, we're just so thankful to the people for their support they gave us while we were there.

KING: Of course, each of your parents, Heather, were on this program from Pakistan. And therefore you -- your faces were seen around the world and you realized that you became world figures.

MERCER: Yes, it's, you know, really -- I don't we think we can take it all in. We just see ourselves as simple people that wanted to go and love the poor and trying to help desperate nation in a small way, in anyway that we could. And so, really, we feel it is a sovereign thing. This is something that God did. And the fact that we ended up in the middle of the world's attention, we couldn't have ever imagined it.

KING: Did you pray a lot, Dayna?

CURRY: Oh my, that is what kept us going. You know, I had my personal time with the Lord and then all of us would get together both in the morning and the evenings and sing for about an hour and pray together and that is what really kept us strong and kept our hope alive.

KING: We will take a break. And when we come back, we'll find out about the rescue and their life since and what's next, and then our panel.

Senator John McCain joins us tomorrow night. We will be right back.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry decided to go to help people who needed help. Their faith led them to Afghanistan. One woman who knows them best put it this way: They had a calling to serve the poorest of the poor and Afghanistan is where that calling took them.



KING: Before we ask about your rescue, girls, ladies -- sorry -- what were your impressions of how women were treated there, Heather?

MERCER: That is a good question. I mean, under the Taliban regime, of course, women have been oppressed. They have been denied just -- normal human rights. The right to have an education, the right to medical care, just really, the right to opportunities and the right to dream dreams.

So I'm really thankful that it seems like there is going to be a new day coming for the women of Afghanistan. And we really hope that the new government that is in process gets established and really is favorable towards the women.

KING: How did it affect you, Dayna, seeing -- you're a woman -- seeing how women were treated?

CURRY: It hurt. It was -- a lot of times it made me angry, you know. to see how they were disrespected and a lot of times we would have Afghan women over and they would just start crying and telling us how hard their life is, and it -- was hard to see.

KING: Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry are at our New York studios. How were you rescued, Heather?

MERCER: Well, as I think the story has been told, that special forces from the U.S. military came in with a helicopter, and did a phenomenal job.

KING: What were you doing at the time?

MERCER: During the time of the rescue?

KING: No. As they came -- when you first knew they were there, where were you, what was happening to you?

MERCER: Sure. We were just sitting out in a field waiting for them to arrive. And just praying like crazy.

KING: You knew they were coming?

MERCER: Yes, we knew they were coming.

KING: And how did you know that?

MERCER: Well, our government had arranged, once we were released from the prison in Ghazni, we made contact with them, and they let us know that they were going to come in that evening to take us out.

KING: What were those moments like, Dayna, waiting?

CURRY: Wow, I think we were all just really so excited that this might be the day that we get to go home. It was also a tense moment because the city was really tense and we were waiting and it took a little bit longer than we thought it was going to take. But we were just so thrilled when we saw the troops coming and when we got on the helicopter it was just amazing. It was a complete dream come true.

KING: Is it true, Dayna, that you set fire to scarves and clothes to guide the choppers in?

CURRY: Well Heather is the one that started it, and we started adding our scarves as well, to make a fire, so the helicopter could see us better.

KING: How soon after that -- how long was that helicopter ride into Pakistan, Heather?

MERCER: It was several hours, actually, and in that intense of a situation time went extra fast. I am not sure exactly, but I believe it was several hours.

KING: When did the president talk to you, Dayna?

CURRY: He called around 7:00 that evening. We were at a party at the German embassy, just celebrating, and he called that evening and it was incredible to hear his voice, and just an honor to talk to him.

KING: Were your folks right there, Heather, when you landed?

MERCER: The first person I saw was my dad. He made sure that he was in front of the plane when it opened, the back of it opened up, and he was the first one I saw and we ran out and hugged each other.

KING: Boy, I guess there is no way to describe that, is there, Heather? It describes itself.

MERCER: Yes it was a spectacular moment, and really, it all happened so fast, and it really was a dream come true for sure.

KING: Dayna, what was it like for you?

CURRY: I think part of me was still in shock. This is -- we were finally released and our prayers were finally answered, but it was just incredible joy, incredible relief that it was finally over. It was just a wonderful day.

KING: Then you got see the other part, there are divorces involved here, so there are step parents, right? So is there a lot of parenting going on.

MERCER: Yes there is.

KING: But both get along very well, don't they, Heather?

MERCER: They do. I mean, I have, I think, some of the greatest parents in the world. And they have laid down their lives for me in the last 3 1/2 months, and I mean, I really couldn't ask for more. They have done a great job.

KING: Do you want to go back, Dayna?

CURRY: I mean, I have a lot of decisions to make. But I think it would be incredible to go back and see the women free, and see the little girls going to school, and just seeing a new Afghanistan, a rebuilt Afghanistan. That excites me, and I really hope I do get to go back.

KING: You going to continue the kind of work you have been doing?

CURRY: Sure, I want to continue working with the poor, and helping the widows there, and the children, and -- yes and any opportunity I can to share about Jesus when there is an opportunity, it would be great.

KING: You want to go back, Heather? MERCER: I do want to go back. Like we have said before, I know my heart is in Afghanistan. The Afghan people are some of the most amazing people I have ever met. And it is going to be -- it is going to be a process. There is a lot to talk through, a lot of decisions to make, like Dayna said, but I do hope to be a part of seeing this nation rebuilt for sure.

KING: Do you have any anger, Dayna?

CURRY: Anger towards who or what?

KING: Talibans, people who imprisoned you?

CURRY: Really, no. I mean, because they really did treat us well, and even some of them told us we were like their sisters, and treated us -- exceptionally well, considering. I mean, I was angry at how I saw the Afghan women being treated. But I have fully forgiven them in my heart because I don't think they fully understand what they were doing.

KING: Do you like the Afghan people lot?

CURRY: I love them. They are the most hospitable people in the whole world.

KING: I have heard.

CURRY: Yes, you just walk down the street and say, come and have tea with me. Come over, and let's just talk. And they just love to spend hours talking and chatting, and they are just incredibly hospitable.

KING: What was it like, Heather, to go to the White House?

MERCER: That was a great day. It was really privilege and honor to see the president, to be able to visit the Oval Office, and then to be able to stand with him out in the rose garden. He is -- I'm honored to have a president like him serving our country.

KING: Was he interested in what happened to you? And did he ask questions about the Taliban, and your imprisonment?

MERCER: We really didn't talk about that. He just showed us around his office, and told us how good it was to see us, and we just -- we didn't really touch that subject. We were just rejoicing that we were out and free, and just had a good time.

KING: What are you going to do now, Heather? I mean for the immediate future?

MERCER: well, I think we are just needing to deal with the new situation we find ourselves in, and process all the decisions with different people that want to hear the story of the last 3 1/2 months. But I want to spend time with my family. That is really the top priority, and then eventually go back to Waco, Texas, where I went to college, and set up home base there for a while. KING: Dayna, how do you like, or not like, being besieged by media? CURRY: Well, it is a completely new experience. I mean it is -- never slept in a more comfortable bed in my life than the Ritz Hotel, and the different, getting new outfits. This outfit is from Bloomingdale's and it was just a free gift. I could have never bought it for myself. So, those things are really fun, but at the same time I think we are a little overwhelmed, just all the people that want to hear our story. We want to tell it, but just -- I think, we just...

KING: Give you a break, a little.


KING: Are you going back home, too?

CURRY: I'm going to go to Nashville, and spend time with my family, and then I will probably go to Waco, as well -- and have my base there.

KING: You'll both be home at Christmas?

CURRY: Of course.

MERCER: Absolutely.

CURRY: Can't wait.


KING: Happy holidays to both of you, and godspeed.

MERCER: Okay, thank you so much.

CURRY: Thank you. You too.

KING: Thank you, and we love your folks.

CURRY: Thank you.

KING: Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry.