By Howard Wilkinson
Enquirer staff writer
BATAVIA - As about 200 people gathered in front of the Clermont County Courthouse for a vigil of prayer and song, two empty chairs sat in the middle of Main Street, symbols of the price the war in Iraq has exacted from this community.
One chair was for Army Spc. Keith "Matt'' Maupin, the 20-year-old Union Township soldier taken hostage in Iraq 81 days ago. The Al-Jazeera news network says it has seen a videotape that shows Maupin being killed.
The other chair was for Army Sgt. Charles "Chuck'' Kiser, 37, an Amelia native who died in Iraq last week when his convoy was attacked.
Clermont County has had ample reason in recent months for grief and anxiety, as well as hope and pride.
Monday night at the courthouse, after a driving rain, the Rev. Brent Snook of First Baptist Church of Glen Este, the church where Maupin was part of the youth ministry only a few short months ago, lifted up prayers for both families.
He prayed for the Kisers, who have gone to Wisconsin to bury their son and brother in the state where his wife and children live. He also prayed for the Maupins.
"If Matt is alive, please bring him home safe,'' Snook prayed before a crowd, many of whom were in 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.''
Throughout Clermont County, bright yellow ribbons have been tied to utility poles and street signs for weeks, especially in Union Township, where the Maupins are well known and liked.
Early Monday evening, people wearing rain slickers and toting umbrellas drifted in and out of the area around Glen Este High School and Middle School to show their support for the Maupin family.
On the fence outside the high school was a large portrait of the soldier surrounded by electric candles. Maupin was known at the school as a good student and an athlete only a few short years ago. His mother, Carolyn, works in the school bus garage.
Spelled out in red, white and blue paper cups stuck into the chain link fence was a message that Clermont Countians have been sending since the news came nearly 11 weeks ago that one of their own was being held hostage in Iraq - "USA'' and "Matt.''
Congressman Rob Portman arrives at Carolyn Maupin's Clermont County home Monday evening and is greeted by Union Township police officer Jim Brown.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
Teresa Moll came with her 13-year-old daughter, Mina, after seeing the news reports about Maupin.
"It's been really hard knowing that he is over there and not knowing whether he is still alive,'' Moll said. "He gave it a brave fight. I just hope it isn't true.''
Donna Baughan of Pierce Township brought her 8-year-old grandson and 9-year-old stepson to the high school Monday night.
"We've got these two boys here who might be soldiers someday, and I just wanted them to see that their community loves and supports the troops,'' Baughan said.
Even as a rainstorm passed through Union Township about 7:15, cars and pickup trucks continued to pass slowly by the shrine to Maupin. One woman stopped, got out of her car and, crying, left a bouquet of flowers before driving on.
Nineteen-year-old Carey Beard, a neighbor of the Maupin family in Union Township, stopped by the high school to place a handful of red, white and blue flowers at the fence.
"People keep coming to my house telling me what is happening and I keep telling them it is not confirmed,'' Beard said. "I'm hoping and praying that it is not him.''
Reporters Cindy Kranz and Karen Vance contributed. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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