By Reid Forgrave
The Cincinnati Enquirer
BATAVIA - A little more than a week ago, this was a sleepy town, its name anonymous to most anyone outside Clermont County.
Now, after a 20-year-old native son's image as a hostage was broadcast first on Arab television and later across the world, the village of Batavia - population 1,617 - has become a focus of international attention as family, friends and residents across the tightly knit, flag-waving county rally and pray for the safe return of Pfc. Keith Matthew Maupin, taken hostage in Iraq after an ambush by insurgents April 9.
A Japanese film crew is coming to town to film a documentary on Maupin. A county commissioner appeared on the BBC over the weekend. Dozens of television cameras and microphones surrounded a brief family press conference Monday. Former prisoner of war Jessica Lynch and her parents called Maupin's parents to express sympathy and support. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has a history of negotiating the release of hostages, offered his services.
"I've seen pictures of the village of Batavia on CNN, and I never thought I'd see that in my entire life," said Tony Thomas, owner of the Clermont Inn restaurant in downtown Batavia, a block from where more than 500 supporters gathered Friday to pray for Maupin's safe return. "It's nice that people around the world know so many people back home care about Matt. You never know what's going to bring attention your way.
"I just hope the next we have is to welcome Matt home. The would be the ultimate conclusion to all this."
On Monday, as e-mail prayer chains spanned the globe, the military changed Maupin's status from "duty status whereabouts unknown" to "captured."
Carl Cottrell II, the boyfriend of Maupin's older sister Lee Ann Spencer and the family spokesman, clasped his girlfriend's hand and walked 100 feet from a silver van to a gaggle of reporters gathered at the Veterans Memorial Park in Union Township Monday.
Cottrell expressed the family's gratitude for the community's support as well as its faith that Maupin will return safely.
Maupin's sister stood by quietly as Cottrell answered questions about the family's well-being and their faith in a safe return.
In Batavia on Monday, the First Baptist Church of Glen Este continued planning a sunset worship service for Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Park. (In case of rain, the service will be at the church at 1034 Old Ohio 74 in Union Township.)
Showing support for the Maupins
Anyone wishing to send cards and letters of support to Pfc. Maupin's family can mail them to Clermont Yellow Ribbon, P.O. Box 200, Batavia, OH 45103. More information available online at www.clermontyellowribbon.com
After the service will be a candlelight ceremony for Maupin and other troops. Supporters will light a six-foot tall electric candle that will stay lit, 24 hours a day, until Maupin returns from Iraq. The candle will be garnished with purple and white flowers, the colors of Maupin's alma mater, Glen Este High School.
Maupin, 20, played football in high school and worked as a stocker at Sam's Club, got good grades at the local branch of University of Cincinnati and attended the church youth group - an all-American boy in small-town America.
"People around the world can relate to this story," said Kathy Lehr, a longtime Clermont County resident and county spokeswoman. "Everybody knows a 20-year-old just like Matt. We're closely linked here - we look like Small Town U.S.A."
Clermont County Sheriff A.J. "Tim" Rodenberg has an especially close link to the Maupin family. Rodenberg's 23-year-old son, Cpl. Nick Rodenberg, is on his second stint in Iraq, stationed at the Al-Asad Air Base west of Baghdad. Rodenberg, a former Marine, keeps one eye always on the cable news channels.
"Every time I see another soldier or Marine getting killed out there, it's like my own son is being lost," Rodenberg said, surrounded by the eagles, globes and anchors of Marine regalia. "But I can see something positive coming from this. The war has a face to it now, brings it home right here and now. This has really woken everybody up to this war. ... But it's a shame it takes something like this to really wake up the American spirit."
U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Cincinnati, called for "a moment of silent reflection or prayer" for Maupin at the start of his town hall meeting Monday night in Green Township.
The First District Congressman told the crowd of about 100 that whether or not they agreed with the war, "I think it's very important that we support our troops."
At the Batavia Crafts and Variety store on Main Street, owner Kim Parsons received a new order of about 20 rolls of yellow ribbon. She's selling bows for about $2.
"Just about every customer who comes through here wants some yellow ribbon," Parsons said Monday, just as Bethel resident Jackie M. Raisor purchased four yards of ribbon for a post on her driveway.
When the BBC interviewed Clermont County Commissioner Bob Proud, he asked the interviewer to beseech citizens of Great Britain to pray for and display yellow ribbons for Maupin.
"All this news coverage is making more people aware of the situation, and hopefully that means more people will keep Matt and all the troops in their prayers," Proud said. "You can never have too many people praying for you."
"The television crews have been all over town all weekend," added Thomas, the restaurant owner. "But this needs attention. I feel so sorry for the kid. You see him on TV, and you just want to reach through the TV and bring him back."
Clermont County: At a glance
Median household income: $49,386
Median housing value: $122,900
Poverty rate: 7.1%
Households with incomes of $150,000 or more: 2,750
Residents with high school diplomas: 82%
Residents with bachelor's degrees: 20.8%
Source: 2000 U.S. Census
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