By Reid Forgrave
Enquirer staff writer
UNION TOWNSHIP - Friends and supporters of Army Spc. Keith "Matt" Maupin gathered in vigils and prayer Monday while his family waited behind closed doors for the official word on his fate, amid reports that Iraqi militants had killed him.
The Gulf-based Arab television network Al-Jazeera television reported Monday that Iraqi militants said Maupin, held hostage for 81 days, was killed because the U.S. government did not change its policy in Iraq.
But U.S. military officials who discussed the reported video with Maupin's family said there was no confirmation that it was the 20-year-old soldier.
Since Maupin's April 9 capture became public, his hometown and home county, which also learned last week that Amelia native Army Sgt. Charles Kiser, 37, was killed by a car bomb in Iraq, have grabbed every opportunity to demonstrate their support for him. Yellow ribbons and signs with messages of hopes have decorated much of Clermont County and there have been repeated prayer vigils.
During the day Monday, people came to Glen Este High School for an impromptu vigil for the Class of 2001 graduate and his family. Another vigil was held Monday night at the Clermont County Courthouse in Batavia.
"If Matt is alive, please bring him home safe," the Rev. Brent Snook prayed before the crowd of more than 200 people where many shed tears. "God, if he is not, we understand, Father, that you have thoughts and ways we don't understand, so, Lord, we continue to trust you."
The Al-Jazeera news report came hours after the United States returned sovereignty in Iraq to an interim government. The report did not say when Maupin was supposed to have been killed.
The Clermont County native, whose 21st birthday would be July 13, was captured during an Iraqi insurgent assault on a convoy west of Baghdad on April 9.
The Arab satellite network Monday aired video showing a blindfolded man sitting on the ground. Al-Jazeera said that in the next scene, gunmen shoot the man in the back of the head, in front of a hole dug in the ground. It did not show the killing, the Associated Press reported.
Cheryl and Jim O'Brien, back, from Batavia, embrace each other as Enisa, 10, from Williamsburg, holds her 6 year old sister Ciera during the prayer vigil for Matthew Maupin held at the Courthouse in Batavia.
(Sarah Conard photo)
However, Army Maj. Willie Harris, public affairs officer for the 88th Regional Readiness Command, stressed that there is "no indication so far that the video contains footage of Matt Maupin or any other Army soldier."
Maupin was seen in captivity in a video shown on Al-Jazeera April 16. There had been no word on his condition since then.
Al-Jazeera said a statement was issued Monday with the video in the name of a group calling itself "The Sharp Sword against the Enemies of God and His Prophet."
Maupin was among nine Americans, seven of them contractors, who disappeared after the April 9 attack.
The bodies of four civilian employees of Kellogg Brown & Root - a subsidiary of Vice President Dick Cheney's former company Halliburton - were later found in a shallow grave near the site of the attack. The body of Sgt. Elmer Krause, of Greensboro, N.C., was found soon after.
One civilian driver, Thomas Hamill of Macon, Miss., was kidnapped but escaped from his captors nearly a month later. The others are missing.
Promotion in absentia
Maupin was promoted in absentia on May 1 from private first class to the rank of specialist, said Maj. Mark Magalski, a spokesman for the 633rd QM Battalion, based in Cincinnati.
Maj. Willie Harris, public affairs officer for the 88th Regional Readiness Command, right, criticized the press for releasing confusing and misleading stories about the fate of Matt Maupin.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
Maupin was assigned to the Army Reserve's 724th Transportation Company, based at Bartonville, Ill.
Harris; U.S. Rep. Rob Portman; and Magalski, the Maupin family's casualty assistance officer, met with the Maupin family in the family's home Monday afternoon before Harris briefed reporters who were camped out in a yard across the street.
Harris criticized some local media reports early in the day as being premature, "incorrect" and "not substantiated."
"The military stance is his status remains 'captured,' " Harris said.
Local reporters and camera crews began gathering outside the Maupin home by 8 a.m. as the first reports circulated. By evening, there were a half-dozen satellite trucks and dozens of media
Military officers filtered in and out of the home during the day, providing escorts for Maupin family members while two Union Township police cruisers guarded the house.
Just before noon, Maupin's sister, Lee Ann Spencer, in tears, walked into the house with her fiance, Carl Cottrell.
From left, Lynne Daley, Barbara Darnell, and Reverend Glenna Harris share a hug after the prayer vigil for Matthew Maupin held at the Batavia courthouse.
(Sarah Conard photo)
Maupin's father, Keith Maupin, left the home with Harris for a few hours in the afternoon, returning about 5 p.m.
"As you can understand, the Maupins are very upset," Harris told reporters in a scolding over the morning news reports.
Besides the seas of yellow ribbons across Clermont County, many in the area have displayed electric candles in their windows to symbolically light Maupin's way home.
Posters of Maupin in his uniform are displayed in the First Baptist Church of Glen Este, about a mile from his home, as well as on the chain-link fence of a school bus parking lot near Glen Este. Yellow ribbons are tied to the fence in rows and pots of flowers have been left at its base.
Paper cups stuck into the fence spell out "U.S.A." and "Matt," and a nearby sign reads: "We Are All Praying for You, Matt."
As night fell, a convoy of 10 vehicles drove past the Maupin home waving American flags and honking horns.
Staff writers Howard Wilkinson and Cindy Kranz and the Associated Press contributed. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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