EL PASO, Texas – Families of the 507th Maintenance Company members killed in an ambush last month in Iraq mourned Saturday and awaited word on how their loved ones died. One lawmaker said that if their autopsies show evidence of torture or execution, "a lot of us are going to be very angry."
"This is pretty devastating news for us," said Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas. "I can only imagine what a devastating blow it is for all the families."
The family of Chief Warrant Officer Johnny Villareal Mata, whose body was identified at a Dover Air Force Base mortuary in Delaware, learned of his death late Friday, said officials at Fort Bliss in El Paso, where the 507th is stationed.
"We share the pain with other families that have lost a loved one," Javier Contreras, Mata's cousin said Saturday. "Johnny leaves a wife, teenage son and young daughter behind. He will be deeply missed, but never forgotten."
The 507th was ambushed near Nasiriyah in south-central Iraq on March 23. Villareal was among the nine bodies of Americans found during the rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch this week.
Lynch, a member of the 507th, had been listed as missing and was later found in an Iraqi hospital. In Charleston, W.V., her family was preparing to fly to Germany to see her when they learned for the first time that members of her company had been killed when the convoy was ambushed near Nasiriyah on March 23.
"I wasn't aware of this," Jessica's father, Greg Lynch Sr., said, lowering his head and shrugging his shoulders. "Our hearts are really saddened for her other troop members and the other families."
Both Lynch's parents and her two siblings spoke Saturday; their plane was expected to arrive early Sunday at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
"I can't wait to see her," Lynch's mother, Deadra, said. "I'm real happy about it. I can't wait. I know it's going to be sad too because of the circumstances but I'm happy to see her."
The family of, Pfc. Lori Piestewa, a friend of Lynch killed in the attack, mourned the death of the first American servicewoman killed in the war.
"Our family is proud of her. She is our hero," her brother Wayland said Saturday in a prepared statement. "We are going to hold that in our hearts. She will not be forgotten. It gives us comfort to know that she is at peace right now."
In Des Moines, Iowa, the pregnant widow of Spc. James Kiehl, 22, also killed in the ambush, thanked supporters Saturday. Jill Kiehl, 20, is due to deliver the couple's son in May and said she will stay with her parents in Des Moines indefinitely.
"It has been a trying time for them and they want everyone to know how much the concern for them has helped them get through the past two weeks," according to a statement released by Col. Robert King, Iowa National Guard spokesman.
Reyes, who got early word that the bodies had been identified, said he wasn't told anything about the causes of death. "Torture is a common element to the Iraqi Army," Reyes said. If that turns out to be the case, he said, "a lot of us are going to be very angry."
"There's a lot of unanswered questions," said David Armontrout, cousin of Army Master Sgt. Robert J. Dowdy, 38, of Cleveland, also killed in the attack. "It would be nice to get some answers to them."
In South Carolina, family members mourned Sgt. George Buggs, 31, of Barnwell, who was a member of the 3rd Division Support Battalion out of Fort Stewart, Ga., an Army unit traveling in the ambushed convoy.
"We hate very much to know this," said the soldier's grandfather, George Buggs. "That is our grandchild and we raised him. We hate it, but there ain't nothing we can do about it."
"I really loved that child. He was just like my own," said Florine Buggs, his grandmother.
In Mobile, Ala., about 1,000 mourners gathered at the funeral of Howard Johnson II, another member of the 507th killed in the ambush. Alfred Stokes, 21, was Johnson's best friend. They were so close the funeral program listed Stokes as his brother, though they're not related.
"Howard, I loved you as a brother, I trusted you as a brother and till my time comes, you will be my brother," he said.
Other names added Saturday to the list of soldiers killed in the ambush:
--Pvt. Ruben Estrella-Soto, 18, of El Paso, Texas.
--Pvt. Brandon Sloan, 19, of Cleveland.
--Sgt. Donald Walters, 33, of Kansas City, Mo.
A ninth body at Dover had not been identified.