Stephanie Thomasegovich, a friend of Laura Ling's since seventh grade, celebrated early Wednesday as she watched television coverage of Ling and fellow reporter Euna Lee arriving in Burbank from North Korea.
"Tears are in my eyes," said Thomasegovich, who has been a friend of Ling's since the seventh grade. Ling grew up in Carmichael.
"I can't even explain to you how special this is right now," Thomasegovich said during a visit to KCRA 3 in Sacramento.
Ling, who was held in North Korea for nearly five months with Lee, said the two women had feared they could be sent to a labor camp at any time. Instead, they were shocked when they were brought to a room Tuesday where they saw former President Bill Clinton.
Ling told journalists in Burbank on Wednesday after a flight from Korea that the last 40 days had been the most difficult and heart-wrenching of the women's lives.
The journalists were arrested after they allegedly crossed into North Korea from China earlier this year. They had been sentenced in June to 12 years of hard labor.
Ling and Lee were captured while on assignment to collect material for a report about trafficking of North Korean women into China.
Thomasegovich, who was confident the reporters would eventually be released, said she has great respect for the work her friend does for San Francisco-based Current TV.
"She is the bravest person I've ever known and she's so little," said Thomasegovich, adding that her friend has the "heart of a bear."
Thomasegovich, who said she "freaked out" Tuesday when she found out that the reporters had been pardoned, said she can't wait to see her friend at a welcome-home party.
This article originally appeared on KCRA.com.