This story originally aired on October 19, 2019.
Grace Jo was 6 years old when her mom scooped up her and her older sister, and set out to cross the Tumen River into China.
“We walked three nights and four days,” Jo said, recalling the trek along rocky mountain trails. “A lot of tree branches were hurting our skin. A lot of wild animal sounds we could hear at night, and we had to hide from people.”
At the river’s edge, the water level went up to her mother’s hips.
“My mom managed, and all three of us able to cross river and come to China.”
But escaping North Korea and finding freedom are two different things. Five years later, Jo and her family were captured, and deported back to North Korea.
The fact that she’s alive, not imprisoned or executed, is kind of miraculous. She — and hundreds of other North Korean refugees — owe their lives to a Seattle-area man named John Yoon.