By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Just the sight of Matt Maupin alive - even as a hostage, surrounded by gun-wielding hooded men - was enough to give hope Friday to family and friends who have prayed for the 20-year-old Clermont County soldier's safe return.
The Arabic television station Al-Jazeera aired footage Friday showing an American soldier - obviously frightened but not visibly harmed - surrounded by five hooded men holding automatic rifles and identifying himself as Pfc. Keith Matthew Maupin.
It was an image that flashed around the world Friday afternoon, but nowhere did it have more impact than in the Clermont County community where the 2001 graduate of Glen Este High School was raised; and where his family and friends have spent anxious days and nights since he was declared missing after an April 9 convoy attack near Baghdad.
"I know that this family has been praying for some positive news,'' said Mia Supe of Summerside, a friend of the soldier's mother, Carolyn Maupin. "I hope this is it.''
For the past week, the Maupin family has said nothing publicly, except for a short statement issued earlier this week by the public affairs office at Fort Knox, Ky.
But about 6 p.m. Friday at the Maupin family's red-brick ranch house in Willowville, about five miles east of Batavia, Carl R. Cottrell II, the boyfriend of Maupin's sister, Lee Ann Spencer, walked into the front yard before a large media crowd to deliver a brief statement from the family - a statement in which the Maupins thanked the community for the prayers and support.
He also asked people in the area to continue to display yellow ribbons "so Matt can see them when he comes home,'' and expressed the family's strong belief that he will return.
"Matt, we love you and we can't wait until we get to hug you again,'' Cottrell said.
Daryll Anderson, who lives across the street from the Maupin family, said "nobody knows what the family is going through, but I will tell you, if it was up to me, I'd give them everything I have to bring their boy back home safe to them.''
Keith "Matt" Maupin
20 years old
Private First Class in the U.S. Army Reserve's 724th Transportation Company, based in Bartonville, Ill.
He was one of two American soldiers reported missing April 9 after the convoy they were in was attacked by rocket-propelled grenades and small-arm fire west of Baghdad. Seven employees of a civilian contractor were also declared missing. Their fate is not yet known.
Graduate of Glen Este High School in 2001. He maintained a 3.5 grade point average and played football for three years.
Joined American Legion Post 72 in March, while in Iraq.
His younger brother, Micah, just completed boot camp in the U.S. Marine Corps and was sent home to be with his family.
Ed Cummings, a World War II veteran sitting on the porch of his home down the street, said he is relieved to see Maupin alive and is not surprised that he is being held captive by weapon-wielding extremists.
"What do you expect from people who fly airplanes into buildings?'' Cummings said.
About 500 people gathered around the Clermont County Courthouse on Batavia's Main Street early Friday evening for a vigil scheduled days before the videotape of Maupin surfaced. The mood was somber and quiet - so quiet that, when there was no music or speaking, the only sounds that could be heard were the sounds of a cardinal singing in a nearby tree and the ruffle of an American flag on a fire truck ladder.
Ron Condrey, a retiree from Withamsville who came to the Batavia vigil with a picture of Maupin pinned to his chest, said he saw the video Friday afternoon and it gave him hope.
"But it's far from over,'' Condrey said. "We just hope he comes home safely.''
The young man the crowd in Batavia came to honor Friday night is no different than thousands of other young Americans - he joined the U.S. Army Reserves after high school in part to pay for a college education.
But, like many others, he found himself in a situation he could not have dreamed of a few short years ago, when he was going to high school and playing football for the Glen Este Trojans. Maupin was caught up in the war on terrorism when his Illinois-based reserve unit, the 724th Transportation Company was deployed to run fuel supply convoys from the Persian Gulf to U.S. base camps in Iraq.
It was on one of the runs on April 9 when Maupin's convoy was ambushed near the village of Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, by men armed with rocket-propelled grenades. Two soldiers - Maupin and Sgt. Elmer Krause of Greensboro, N.C, were declared missing, along with seven employees of civilian contractors who were with the convoy.
On Tuesday, NBC News reported that an American soldier was among the four charred, disfigured bodies found in a shallow grave west of Baghdad that U.S. military officials believed came from the Abu Ghraib attack.
For the friends and family of Maupin, that news only heightened the anxiety that rose unabated until around 4 p.m. Friday afternoon, when the somewhat grainy images of an apparently frightened but unharmed American soldier surrounded by hooded gunmen were broadcast.
"My name is Keith Matthew Maupin; I am a soldier from the 1st Division,'' the soldier, dressed in desert camouflage and wearing a floppy camouflage hat, is heard saying on the videotape. "I am married with a 10-month-old son. I came to liberate Iraq, but I did not come willingly because I wanted to say with my child.''
What was not immediately clear is when the videotape was shot, or where it was made. U.S. military officials are examining the tape.
Maupin looked frightened but did not appear to be harmed in any way. In fact, one of the gunman is heard to say the American soldier is being "treated according to the treatment of prisoners in the Islamic religion and is in good health. ''
"We are keeping him to be exchanged for some of the prisoners captured by the occupation forces,'' the gunman said.
The statement by the gunman may mean that his abductors are unlikely to harm him, but the policy of the U.S. government is refuse to negotiate with those who hold U.S. military personnel hostage.
That would apparently mean that if Maupin is to be freed, it will be because U.S. military forces track down his abductors and free him, or if the abductors decide to release him on their own.
Cliff Radel contributed. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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