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Hostage's fate seals her days of resignation

The effects of war ripple like a heavy stone thrown into a pond.

So it is with Iraq.

An American civilian in Baghdad, Jack Hensley, is one of three men abducted by terrorists. Thousands of miles away, his wife and daughter in Marietta, Ga., are stunned by fear and worry, overwhelmed with anxiety and uncertainty. From there, the stew of emotion reaches a small apartment south of Gandy Boulevard in Tampa, where a woman who calls Hensley the kindest, most gentle man she has ever known speaks flatly of what it is to be without hope.

It is Tuesday morning and Pauline "Pat" Fallon, Hensley's 75-year-old mother-in-law, fully expects to learn of his death. Hers is not an unreasonable position. Already, the only other American among the three has been beheaded. The terrorists, reportedly linked to al-Qaida, promised they wouldn't stop at one.

"It would really take a miracle," she says in her raspy cigarette voice. She believes in God but not miracles, not this time.

"The insurgents are _ I can't compare them to animals, I love animals _ they're possessed by Satan," she says.

She sits in her motorized wheelchair and explains that she has hardly been able to eat or sleep since Thursday, when Hensley was captured. For a moment, she closes her eyes and clings to a photograph of her daughter and son-in-law, taken soon after their wedding.

She describes seeing her daughter Pati on CNN and ABC, appealing for Hensley's life. It's the day before Hensley's 49th birthday. Could his captors guess he has a daughter who loves him? Do they know how much he likes the Iraqi people? Or that he was once a schoolteacher?

A chance for good work and better money propelled Hensley to Baghdad last spring to take a job in the rebuilding of Iraq, a family member told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He came home in June to surprise his daughter on her 13th birthday. Pat Fallon remembers begging him not to go back.

"I don't think he felt he was in any danger," she says. He told his family that conditions in Iraq were not as bad as Americans thought. But his optimism waned. Recently, Hensley had begun to worry, and his wife asked him to come home.

On this Tuesday in Marietta, at the home of Hensley's wife, White House chief of staff Andrew Card Jr. calls, promising the government will do all it can. In New York, President Bush goes before the United Nations, defending his decision to invade Iraq. And he proclaims, "We all stand in solidarity with the (remaining) American that is now being held captive."

And then, at 2:24 p.m., it happens.

A news report comes out of Cairo.

"Internet posting says second American hostage has been killed," it says.

Initially, the dead man is not identified by name. That will come later. Pat Fallon doesn't need a name, or confirmation.

"Well, Jack's at rest," she says.

For many Americans, these are the moments when rage boils up and overflows. That has not happened to Pat Fallon, at least not yet. Some Pakistani friends have given her a copy of the Koran, and she is working her way through it. She has concluded that Allah is not a vengeful God, but she is certain he will punish terrorists for the slaughter of people like Jack Hensley.

She has been thinking all week of what his last moments would be like, how it would feel to kneel and know that in one swipe, his world would go black forever. She has prayed to him. "Jack, dear, please don't beg for your life. Don't scream. Don't cry. Just close your eyes tight and go to God."

That's what she has prayed. That's what she has hoped for. That was all she could do.

You can reach Mary Jo Melone at mjmelonesptimes.com or (813) 226-3402.

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