West Virginian among soldiers missing in Iraq

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 25, 2003

PALESTINE, W.Va. - A West Virginia woman who joined the Army because there were few jobs in her hometown is among a dozen soldiers reported missing after a supply convoy was ambushed in southern Iraq, her father said Monday.

Pfc. Jessica Lynch, 19, of Palestine, worked as a supply clerk with the Army's 507th Maintenance Co., said her father, Greg Lynch.

"The only thing they can tell us is she's missing," Lynch said.

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Lynch said he was notified late Sunday night by an Army official accompanied by the West Virginia State Police.

Some members of the 507th were shown on Iraqi television as prisoners being questioned Sunday, but Jessica Lynch was not one of those pictured.

"We saw it on TV and kind of suspected," Lynch said. "I just want them to bring her back safely - her and all the rest of the kids."

Lorene Cumbridge, a 62-year-old cousin who lives near the Lynches, said Jessica - known to family and friends as Jesse - grew up playing at her home.

"She's just a West Virginia country girl. Warm-hearted. Outgoing," Cumbridge said. "I really thought growing up she would become an elementary school teacher. But for West Virginia children in some of the more rural areas, the military is the one good chance of getting an education and making something of themselves."

Jean Offutt, a spokeswoman for Fort Bliss in Texas, where the 507th Maintenance Co. is based, said 10 or more of the soldiers who went missing Sunday were with the company, which deployed last month with the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade. It is not considered a combat unit, officials said.

Palestine, about 70 miles north of Charleston, is a farming community in sparsely populated Wirt County, which had a 15 percent unemployment rate in January - one of the state's highest.