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AREA WOMAN TRYING TO FREE DAUGHTER FROM TALIBAN'S GRIP

Lewiston resident Deborah Oddy has told family members she is not coming back from the Middle East without her daughter.

Oddy is currently in Islamabad, Pakistan, trying to win the release of her daughter, Heather Mercer, 24, a humanitarian aid worker who is being held by the Taliban government in Kabul, Afghanistan, on charges of preaching Christianity.

"Deb won't come back until she has Heather," said Karen Oddy of Youngstown, Deborah's stepdaughter. "This is a nightmare you never dream could happen to you or your family."

Deborah Oddy had been in Afghanistan with her husband, Delmer, and former husband and Heather's father, John Mercer. They were on a mission to try to free Heather, but they had to leave after the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.

The Oddys continue to work on Mercer's release from Pakistan, but family members here are concerned for their safety.

"The danger has heightened for these foreign aid workers," said Norma Anderson of Youngstown, who is Deborah Oddy's mother and Mercer's grandmother. "There are riots in the street (in Afghanistan), but my daughter is not coming back until she gets something. We are very concerned. Sept. 11 was a dreadful thing, and now Heather is caught in the middle."

Meanwhile, Mercer's family will hold a candlelight ceremony at 7 p.m. tonight to pray for the young woman's safety and release.

The ceremony, open to the public, will be held in the Hennepin Park gazebo, at Center and Fourth streets. Prayers will be led by the Rev. Joseph Levesque, president of Niagara University, and speakers will include Lewiston Mayor Richard F. Soluri.

Prayers will also be said for victims of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.

"This ceremony is timely and long overdue," said Anderson.

Karen Oddy said her parents hope the vigil will draw attention to the prisoners in Afghanistan and get the word out that there are still foreigners being held there. Mercer, her roommate Dayna Curry, four Germans and two Australians are being held.

"People need to be aware about the eight detainees and continue with their prayers," she said.

Oddy also said family members in Pakistan are working with the Taliban government, the United Nations and the U.S. embassy in Islamabad to try to free Mercer. The last few days have consisted of a lot of waiting for contact, Oddy said, and so Deborah Oddy has been giving interviews on American television networks to try to keep up awareness of the eight prisoners' plight.

Karen Oddy said her stepsister had gone twice before to Afghanistan when she was in college.

"She saw the need for humanitarian aid," Oddy said of Mercer. "She wanted to help the area with food and clothing. She went as a person, not for preaching."

Karen Oddy called any reports of Mercer teaching Christianity to Muslims totally false.

"She shared with us the strictness and laws and the issues of religion there," she said.

email: nfischer@buffnews.com

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