A Marine staged his own disappearance because he feared harm at the hands of members of his own unit, some of whom face murder charges in the death of an Iraqi civilian, a friend who acknowledges aiding in the ruse told a newspaper.

Lance Cpl. Lance Hering "thought if he would have gone back to Camp Pendleton they would have killed him," Steve Powers told the Daily Camera of Boulder for a story published Thursday. "He was terrified."

Hering has been missing since late August, when Powers reported that he had apparently wandered away after falling while rock climbing near Boulder. After a massive manhunt, Powers told authorities he lied; he has been charged with misdemeanor false reporting.

Hering, 21, is assigned toKilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Camp Pendleton officials said. Two members of that unit pleaded not guilty Wednesday in the April 2005 death of 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad in Hamdania, Iraq. Five others and a Navy corpsman assigned to the unit also face charges.

The Marines and the corpsman are accused of shooting Awad repeatedly and staging the scene to make it appear as if he were planting a roadside bomb.

Powers said Hering did not tell him what it was he saw that made him fear returning to Camp Pendleton in California, where he had been due to return Sept. 18.

Camp Pendleton spokesman 1st Lt. Esteban Vickers said there are policies to protect servicemembers who witness crimes.

Powers said he and Hering went to Eldorado Canyon State Park on Aug. 29 and found a place where Hering left some of his own blood to support the story Powers later told authorities — that Hering hit his head and was unconscious for hours while Powers hiked out to find help.

He said he then drove his friend to downtown Denver and returned to the state park, where he reported the alleged disappearance the following day.

"He was definitely, absolutely convinced this was the only way he was going to survive," Powers said. He said he does not know where Hering is.

Boulder County sheriff's Cmdr. Phil West told the Daily Camera his agency was still investigating and has not found Hering. He said authorities were suspicious of Powers' statements.

Hering is charged with a felony — failure to comply with terms of a deferred sentence from a 2004 burglary charge — and two misdemeanors — false reporting and conspiracy to commit false reporting.