March 28, 2008: Agonizing wait ends for news from Iraq

  • Article by: RICHARD MERYHEW
  • Star Tribune
  • December 13, 2011 - 11:02 AM

They don't know how or when he died or whether he was tortured. They don't know where his body was found or who is responsible for his abduction and death.

But 16 months after Paul Johnson- Reuben disappeared after being kidnapped with four other security contractors in southern Iraq, his family and friends finally know this:

He's coming home.

"I am thankful ... that he has made it home," Quinten Reuben, 32, of Minneapolis, said Thursday of his older brother. "For me, that's a small victory, that we can give him a respectful funeral and put
him to rest."

Months of waiting, worrying and praying for a happy outcome ended when Johnson- Reuben's family got word from the FBI that his remains had been found and identified.

Johnson- Reuben, a Marine Corps veteran and former St. Louis Park police officer who grew up in Minneapolis and lived in Buffalo, Minn., was one of five private security contractors captured by
insurgents when a convoy they were escorting was hijacked at a fake checkpoint in southern Iraq in November 2006.

He was 39 when he was kidnapped.

Johnson- Reuben's wife, Keri, said FBI officials stopped at their house Wednesday night to break the news. She immediately got sick and "just fell to the floor," she said.

She and other family members said Thursday that the FBI has provided no other details.

"It's over," said Kathy Reuben, Johnson- Reuben's former wife and the mother of their twin daughters, Bree and Casey, 17. "Paul's in heaven. He's a happy man today. And we don't have to worry about him anymore."

The FBI also identified the remains of another captive, Joshua Munns of Redding, Calif. The agency is awaiting test results on the remains of a third body.

Kathy and Quinten Reuben gathered with other family members Thursday morning at Paul Johnson- Reuben's grandmother's house in south Minneapolis to thank the public for its support and to remember a man who they said was fun loving and full of life.

With them were Bree and Casey and Bree's 5-month-old daughter, Ka'Leah, Paul Johnson- Reuben's first grandchild.

Bree and Casey Reuben said they last spoke to their father days before the kidnapping.

"He said it was really dangerous over there," Casey said as she held her sister's arm. "He was really scared for his life, and he was going to stop doing this after a while because ... there were a
lot of car bombings and just a lot of things going on over there."

Said Bree: "He liked it up to the point where he started seeing people die in front of him. He just got scared."

Family members last saw Johnson- Reuben alive in January 2007, when his captors released a nearly two-minute video to U.S. officials with each of the contractors identifying themselves.

In the months that followed, relatives kept the faith, despite long stretches without news.

Even when the family and those of the other kidnap victims were told this month that severed fingers of their loved ones -- including a finger from Paul -- had been delivered to U.S. officials in Baghdad, they kept hoping for the best.

But those hopes dimmed Monday when families learned that the remains of two other contractors -- one of whom was kidnapped with Paul -- had been identified and those of three others had been found.

Johnson- Reuben, who lost his job as a St. Louis Park police officer after a drunken-driving arrest, had worked as a private security contractor in Iraq since 2004.

Despite occasional leaves back home, he always returned to Iraq, in part because the work paid well -- about $7,000 a month -- and because he found it challenging.

While in Iraq, Johnson- Reuben worked for several companies, including Crescent Security Group, a private firm based in Kuwait.

He was working for Crescent when he and the four other contractors were kidnapped during a daytime hijacking of their convoy along a desert strip near the Iraq-Kuwait border. A few dozen gunmen in Iraqi police uniforms seized the convoy, which included 43 trucks and six security vehicles.

U.S. and British officials said the gunmen had posed as police and established a phony checkpoint.

Months later, the Washington Post reported that Crescent, despite having a reputation for handling risky assignments, employed a "low budget approach to private security." It also said the company
"routinely sacrificed safety to cut cost."

Crescent, which no longer does business in Iraq, issued a statement that said: "Paul was as dedicated to his job as he was to his family and friends. He was a gentle giant of a man, courteous
and respectful, a trait which earned him the total respect and loyalty of those around him."

The security firm said it "will continue to work with all of the concerned parties in bringing to justice those who perpetrated this kidnapping and will not rest until they are in the hands of authorities."

Quinten Reuben said he and other family members will press government officials to learn more about what transpired. They also hope to find out more about what Paul and his colleagues endured.

"We don't know how he was being treated or whether they were tortured," Quinten Reuben said. "We don't know what he maybe went through, what he saw, what the others went through. Were they together or by themselves?"

Late Thursday, FBI supervisory special agent Richard KolkoI said in Washington: "The FBI, working with our partners in the Hostage Working Group in Iraq, will continue to aggressively investigate
every available lead in order to identify, apprehend and bring to justice those responsible for these horrific criminal acts." The working group was established by the U.S. Embassy in 2004 to handle
the cases of U.S. civilians missing in Iraq.

Johnson- Reuben's wife, Keri, said that an autopsy was performed
on her husband at the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware but that the
results won't be released for months.

She said she plans to have another autopsy performed when the
body is flown to Minnesota in the next week. Funeral arrangements
are pending.

"I'm relieved that Paul's coming home," Keri Johnson- Reuben said. "But there's so many unanswered questions."

The New York Times contributed to this report.

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