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Pakistani church victim's condition "extremely critical'

Inside their Brandon home this week, Rees and Frankie Nickerson took comfort in the fact that things weren't worse.

Their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren were inside a church in Islamabad, Pakistan on Sunday when a terrorist threw grenades into the sanctuary.

But the family, while injured, was going to be okay, the U.S. government said.

"We are thankful to God that they weren't killed," Rees Nickerson said.

But now things don't look as good.

Six-year-old Samuel Womble, who suffered head injuries from shrapnel, was hurt much more severely than doctors thought, the family's pastor said Thursday.

Doctors at a U.S. military installation in Europe told the family that Samuel's condition has worsened. He is in "extremely critical" condition, the pastor said.

"If things continue to develop, I do not know what is going to happen," said Bell Shoals Baptist Church pastor John Russell, who spoke to the family Thursday.

More than a dozen pieces of shrapnel remain lodged inside Samuel's head, the pastor said. Several pieces are stuck deep inside Samuel's brain, one piece at a critical nerve center. Doctors must surgically remove the shrapnel when the swelling and infection subside.

The U.S. Embassy arranged for a government medical transport plane to fly the Wombles out of Pakistan on Wednesday. They are staying at a U.S. military base at an unidentified location in Europe.

Samuel's mother, Cindy, whose thighbone was crushed, underwent surgery to remove shrapnel and bone fragments from her leg. Doctors may operate again to remove more shrapnel.

"Cindy is super-anxious about seeing her son," Russell said.

Her husband Jeff, who has shrapnel in his legs, ribs and foot, also was admitted to the hospital. The grenade blast burst both of his eardrums and damaged an inner ear.

Jeff Womble threw his wife to the ground Sunday when he saw someone enter the Protestant International Church near the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad and heave grenades. The force of the grenade blast propelled his son Samuel three rows back.

The family had moved back to Pakistan in February to work for a humanitarian aid agency. Cindy Womble had worked as a nurse and Jeff was planning to teach English as a second language.

Cindy's parents flew to the European hospital Tuesday to be with their family. The pastor said they were emotionally exhausted but glad to be with their daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren, two of whom were not hurt.

"It's incredible how one act in a church in Islamabad has brought the whole world to our doorstep," Russell said. "With one simple act, the whole world changes."

_ Contact David Karp at 226-3376 or