WILLOUGHBY, Ohio – Two Army veterans and a former Navy SEAL (search) were among four American contractors killed in Iraq, their bodies mutilated and dragged through the streets.
Family members and a spokesperson said Thursday that Jerko "Jerry" Zovko, 32, Michael Teague, 38, and Scott Helvenston, 38, died with another civilian Wednesday after they were hit by rocket-propelled grenades in a rebel ambush. The victims worked for Blackwater Security Consulting, one of five subsidiaries of Blackwater USA based in North Carolina.
Zovko's mother said she and her husband had suspected their son might be among the dead, but their fears were confirmed Thursday morning when the president of Blackwater USA knocked on their door.
"It was the hardest day of my life," Donna Zovko said during an interview in her suburban Cleveland home.
"Jerry was a man with a principle, an idea," his mother said. "He loved people. He wanted the world to be without borders, for everybody to be free and safe."
Zovko's family wouldn't say whether he was married or had children.
"My brother was an exceptional individual," Tom Zovko said. "He did what he thought was right."
Jerry Zovko joined the Army in 1991 at age 19. He spoke five languages fluently -- English, Croatian, Spanish, Russian and Arabic. He was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division (search) at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Tom Zovko said.
Teague, of Clarksville, Tenn., was a 12-year Army veteran who earned a Bronze Star for service in Afghanistan and also served in Panama and Grenada, his wife, Rhonda, said in a prepared statement. She called her husband a "proud father, soldier and American."
"I, his son Brandon and his friends and family will miss him without measure," her statement said.
Teague had worked in the security business since he left the Army six years ago, but he joined Blackwater Security only two months ago, WTVF-TV of Nashville reported.
A third victim was identified as Helvenston by a family spokesperson who said the family would comment on Friday.
Helvenston lived in Leesburg, Fla., before joining the Navy when he was 17. He served with the Navy SEALs for 12 years and later worked as a fitness promoter, starting a company called Amphibian Athletics. He also was an actor and stunt man for movies including "G.I. Jane," according to a company Web site.
The names of the four victims were not officially released because all family members had yet to be notified, U.S. officials said.
In Moyock, N.C., where the security company is based, residents said Wednesday that the shocking way the bodies were treated helped bring the conflict in Iraq closer to home. Jubilant Iraqi residents dragged two of the charred corpses through the streets and strung them up on a bridge, acts the U.S. government denounced as "horrific."
"With what's been going on in Iraq I'm not surprised at anything," said 72-year-old Howard Forbes. "But I was surprised at what they did to the bodies."
Marty Huffstickler, 52, who works part time as an electrician for Blackwater, said he believes Americans are "dying for no reason."
"I don't agree with what's going on over there," he said. "The people over there don't want us there."
The company provides security training and guard services to customers around the world. Blackwater President Gary Jackson and two other company leaders are former Navy SEAL commandos.
The company declined to comment beyond a statement that acknowledged it was a government subcontractor providing security for the delivery of food in the Fallujah (search) area.
Privately owned Blackwater USA's range of paramilitary services include providing firearms and small-groups training facilities for Navy SEALs, police department SWAT teams and former special operations personnel.