LAPORTE, Ind. – A yellow ribbon was tied around a tree Wednesday outside the home of a businessman believed abducted in Iraq, and an American flag fluttered on a pole.
Jeffrey Ake's (search) family and the company he runs made no immediate public comments about reports of his kidnapping. The family was following the FBI's advice in not commenting, police Chief David Gariepy told reporters after meeting with the family.
He asked residents of the community about 25 miles west of South Bend (search) to "hope and pray and wait."
Friends said they were especially shocked because Ake's company has been part of the effort to rebuild Iraq since the U.S. invasion two years ago. In 2003, it built a machine that fills containers of cooking oil and a system to sell bottled water in Baghdad (search).
"I can't imagine why they would do that. He wasn't there fighting," said Anita Lebo, the school bus driver for some of Ake's four children. "I'll be doing a lot of praying for them."
Al-Jazeera television showed video Wednesday of a man who the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said appeared to be Ake, who was kidnapped Monday while working on a water treatment plant near Baghdad.
Al-Jazeera said the man asked the U.S. government to withdraw from Iraq and to save his life. No group claimed responsibility for the abduction.
"I believe it is a terrible situation for the family and we have to keep them in our thoughts and pray for his safe return," Gariepy said. "It devastates all of us as Americans when someone from our country is involved in something like this."
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the Bush administration was keeping in touch with the Ake family, but he said there would be no negotiations with the kidnappers.
Ake, 47, is president and CEO of Equipment Express in nearby Rolling Prairie, whose products include machines that fill water bottles.
Ake has long championed doing business outside the United States and has touted the power of personal sales calls by Americans in foreign countries.
"Think of other countries as U.S. states with cultural nuances thrown in," he urged participants in a 1995 trade seminar in Orlando, Fla.
He wrote a 1996 book about exporting and has done business in dozens of countries, including South Korea, Iceland, Indonesia and the Philippines. Last year he partnered with a Nigerian businessman to create a multimillion-dollar bottled water company designed to supply clean water to millions of Africans.
Becky Netzer, a neighbor who stopped by the family's home Wednesday, said Ake and his wife, Liliana, are doting, loving parents.
"It's just unbelievable, unbelievable to be this close to home," she said.
Ake is one of at least 14 Americans who have been kidnapped or have gone missing in the past year in Iraq. At least three have been killed.