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Idaho woman detained in China in 2019 returns home

Idaho resident Alyssa Petersen landed back in the United States on Monday. She was arrested in 2019 on suspicion of organizing others to illegally cross the border.

BOISE, Idaho — After being detained in China since September 2019, Idaho resident Alyssa Petersen landed back in the United States on Monday. 

Petersen is the former director of a Rexburg-based English teaching organization called China Horizons. Petersen and Jacob Harlan, the former owner of China Horizons, were arrested by police in the eastern province of Jiangsu nearly three years ago on suspicion of organizing others to illegally cross the border.

"Alyssa is HOME!!!!! We picked her up today. We are all so incredibly happy," Alyssa's sister, Saren, wrote in a GoFundMe update. "She is doing good and in good spirits. We are going to take a week or so to be with family. We will update again soon."

In October 2019, China Horizons posted on Facebook, announcing the program was ending "because of increasing political and economic problems between the USA and China." 

The Rexburg-based teaching organization said "we are no longer able to send teachers to China safely."

However, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Geng Shaung, downplayed the possibility of outside factors weighing on Petersen and Harlan's cases.

"I did not see any specific connection between this matter and the current China-U.S. relations," he told reporters at a 2019 press briefing.

RELATED: 2 Idahoans detained in China on suspicion of organizing others to illegally cross the border

According to Alyssa's sister, Saren, more than 700 donations were made to the GoFundMe account for legal fees and supporting Alyssa's finances while she was detained. 

Petersen's GoFundMe page says she was held incommunicado for two weeks after being taken away by police and was located only after her family went to the State Department for assistance.

The charge of organizing others to illegally cross the border carries a minimum sentence of two years, with punishment as severe as life imprisonment under certain circumstances.

Katherine Harlan, Jacob's wife, last posted an update on the family's GoFundMe page in October 2021. The update said Jacob's trial "took place in May of 2021. However, we have yet to receive the results of that trial." 

Saren posted on Alyssa's GoFundMe page on May 13, announcing her sister would be released and turned over to the U.S. Embassy after being detained for almost three years in China. 

The GoFundMe account set up to support Alyssa can be viewed by clicking here

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