It is easy to forget how dire prospects seemed for Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry. Their families spent three and a half months last fall praying and watching as hopes grew dim for acquittal or a light sentence on charges of proselytizing in Afghanistan. Chances also seemed slim that the Taliban would not use them as human shields.

The sentence for proselytizing—the charge itself violated United Nations-sanctioned human rights—could have been as light as a 10-day jail term. But during the trial, the World Trade Center towers fell to terrorists, and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar's 10-year-old son reportedly was killed by U.S. air raids. Omar, who was said to have favored an "exemplary sentence" that could have included death by hanging, would have decided the aid workers' fate had they been convicted.

The spotlight on the Shelter Now International aid workers detained in Afghanistan also shed light on the exasperating ordeals of endangered workers' relatives.

A Discouraged Mother's Prayers

At the time, Mercer's mother, Deborah L. Oddy, said she was praying day and night. In an e-mail to CT from Islamabad, Pakistan, on October 19, she said her 24-year-old daughter wrote in a letter that the aid workers needed a miracle of the "same magnitude as the parting of the Red Sea."

"As time passes, it is more difficult for me to remain optimistic," Oddy wrote.

Once U.S. bombing in Afghanistan began on October 7, she placed little hope in the Taliban legal process. "I go to bed each night praying that tonight will be the night the Taliban fall," she wrote on October 25. "Each morning I wake up, immediately turn on CNN, and I'm disappointed. One day I hope it will happen. I hope it will be one day soon."

Three weeks later, as they overran ...

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