BROWNSVILLE, Texas – Relatives of a missing soldier held out faint hope Tuesday that he wasn't among the bodies discovered in Iraq and said they were outraged to hear grisly reports of his slaying through the media.
The first reports that the body of Army Pfc.Kristian Menchaca had been found came from an Iraqi defense ministry official who said Menchaca, 23, and Army Pfc. Thomas Lowell Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore., had been "killed in a barbaric way."
Then came news reports that Al Qaeda in Iraq had claimed the two men were "slaughtered." The language in the group's Internet statement, which could not be authenticated, suggested the two soldiers had been beheaded.
"It's very upsetting to me that they would give you details of the torture, of the beheading," said Mario Vasquez, Menchaca's uncle in Houston. "Who tells the media when we don't know before they do?"
Menchaca's mother had already heard the reports when a member of the Army's casualty assistance office arrived at her Brownsville home Tuesday morning.
Sgt. 1st Class Jesus Rolonmedina told the family DNA testing was under way to confirm the identities and could take two or three days. He said the bodies "had a lot of trauma — not that they are in pieces, but trauma."
Menchaca's mother, Maria Vasquez, was sobbing when she answered the door of her home, accompanied by her niece, Felipa Gomez.
"She's hanging in there," and still holding on to hope that Menchaca will make it back alive, Gomez said. "She might be frightened, but she won't show it."
U.S. Maj. Gen. William Caldwell confirmed that the military has recovered what are believed to be the remains of two missing soldiers, but he said the cause of death was "undeterminable at this point."
Ken MacKenzie, another uncle of Mancheca, lashed out at the U.S. government Tuesday morning, saying it didn't do enough to find the men and keep them safe.
Menchaca and Tucker had been manning checkpoints south of Baghdad when they were attacked Friday and another soldier with them was killed.
"I think the U.S. government was too slow to react to this. They should have had a plan in place. Because the U.S. government did not have a plan in place, my nephew has paid for it with his life," MacKenzie said on NBC's "Today" show.
MacKenzie said the government should have offered a $100 million reward and offered to exchange mujahideen detainees for the soldiers' lives. The government seized enough money from Saddam Hussein to afford it, he said.
The military has said more than 8,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops were searching for the men.
In Tucker's hometown in Oregon, yellow ribbons adorn the trees and store reader boards offer prayers of hope for his safe return.
A spokesman for the Tucker family, Oregon National Guard Sgt. Randy Everett, said Tuesday they had not heard any specifics from the military but that they were expecting the worst.
Tucker's relatives declined interviews but released the text of a phone message Monday that Tucker recently left on an answering machine, telling his mother to be proud of him.
"I'm defending my country," Tucker says on the recording. "Tell sis and my nephews hello for me, I'm OK, I'm on my way."
The family said in a statement Monday that their son had joined the military because he wanted to "do something positive." They also sent their sympathy to the family of Spc. David J. Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass., who was killed in the attack.
Lyndsay Kowaleski, a high school classmate of Tucker's, described "a sense of helplessness" after learning Tucker was missing.
"Our hearts are broken with our friend being in this situation," she said.