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The sad story of a girl and grace moves Japan. On a brisk fall day in 1977, a 13-year-old Japanese girl named Megumi Yokota vanished on her way home from badminton practice after school. Police dogs tracked her scent to a nearby beach, but the distraught Yokotas had no clues that might explain their daughter's sudden disappearance. Grief-stricken, Mrs. Yokota found solace in the Christian faith of one of Megumi's classmates, and under the guidance of a team missionary, she converted to Christ. Her husband, angry with God, turned in the other direction.

Sixteen years later, long after the Yokotas had resigned themselves to Megumi's death, a North Korean defector made a stunning claim: A Japanese woman named Megumi, who played badminton, was living in North Korea at a training institute for intelligence agents. He said that scores, maybe hundreds, of Japanese had been kidnapped to teach spies their language and culture. He provided heartrending details of Megumi's abduction: Agents had seized her, wrapped her in a straw mat, and rowed her to a waiting spy ship, where she had spent the night scratching against the hold with bloody fingers, crying, "Mother!"

North Korea dismissed all such reports as fabrications. Other defectors soon validated these stories, however, which were reported by the BBC and U.S. television, and made sensational news in Japan. Finally, Kim Jong-Il himself, the "Dear Leader" of North Korea, admitted to the abductions of 13 Japanese citizens. Five returned to Japan, but North Korea insisted that the other eight had died, including Megumi, who in 1993 had used a kimono to hang herself.

Information supplied by North Korea proved untrustworthy, however. dna tests revealed that bone fragments supposedly from ...

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