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Native son stays present in thoughts of Jamestown

JAMESTOWN, N.D. - The uncle of U.S. hostage Ronald Schulz didn't need many words to describe his emotions Thursday. "A lot of anxiety," Otto Schulz said.

JAMESTOWN, N.D. - The uncle of U.S. hostage Ronald Schulz didn't need many words to describe his emotions Thursday.

"A lot of anxiety," Otto Schulz said. "And a guy does a lot of praying."

The uncertainty surrounding Ronald Schulz's fate Thursday had relatives, friends and strangers here in his hometown waiting for the official answer to a terrible question.

Kara Mindt, a 19-year-old who didn't know Schulz or his family, asked it aloud near the end of her shift at a local convenience store.

"Is it true that he got executed?"


Schulz, a 40-year-old industrial electrician who traveled the world for work, was shown Tuesday with his hands tied in a video broadcast on Al-Jazeera Arabic news. The video, which showed the logo of the insurgent Islamic Army in Iraq, called Schulz a U.S. security consultant and said he had 48 hours to live unless the United States released all Iraqi prisoners.

The deadline seemed to pass without word from the kidnappers until late Thursday morning. Then news reports surfaced about a comment on an Islamic Web site, purportedly from his kidnappers, that claimed Schulz had been killed. A few hours later, relatives began hearing that the message, which was written in Arabic, may have been incorrectly translated.

"Talk about a rollercoaster ride," said Mert Schulz, Otto's wife.

The U.S. State Department ended the day without confirming the message's authenticity or what it believed it said.

At St. John's Lutheran Church, the Rev. Doug Opp answered calls from parishioners who worried for Schulz and his family, who belong to the church.

"They're shocked to hear what happened," Opp said.

The church will host a vigil from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. today for Schulz, who moved from Jamestown after graduating from high school here in 1983.

Opp, who said he was not a spokesman for the family, said he wanted the church and its members to be "a source of hope and light in the midst of this sadness."


Jamestown resident William Steinmetz, a childhood friend of Schulz's, said it was hard to tell fact from fiction among Thursday's mixed reports.

"Let's hope that it comes out to be good news of a sort where he can come back," Steinmetz said.

Schulz is the 18th U.S. civilian to be taken hostage in Iraq since fighting began there in 2003, the State Department said. Of those, five are known to have been killed or to have died while in captivity, and six have been freed.

Mindt, the convenience store worker, said it is hard to hear the news about Schulz because of his local ties, even if he hasn't lived in Jamestown for more than 20 years.

"It's just like Phil Brown; he's one of our own," she said, speaking of the local National Guard soldier killed in May 2004 in Iraq.

Charlie Kourajian, mayor of this city of 15,500 west of Fargo, said his town would lower its flags to half mast if the worst reports about Schulz's fate are true. He'll be honored like a soldier, Kourajian said.

Reporter Holly Jessen of the Jamestown Sun contributed to this article. Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Forster at (701) 241-5538

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