BROWNSVILLE, Texas – Relatives of a Texas soldier caught in an insurgent attack in Iraq said Thursday the military had confirmed one of two brutalized bodies found there was his.
Army Pfc. Kristian Menchaca's family had gathered at his mother's Brownsville home, hoping that DNA tests would determine the young newlywed wasn't one of the victims found Tuesday.
"They have confirmed that it is Kristian," his aunt, Hermelinda Gomez, said Thursday before returning inside the single-story brick house.
Menchaca, a 23-year-old soldier from Houston, and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore., disappeared after an insurgent attack at a checkpoint by a Euphrates River canal, 12 miles south of Baghdad, that killed another U.S. soldier.
A U.S. military official said Wednesday that one and possibly both soldiers were tortured and beheaded. The bodies were sent to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Wednesday for DNA testing.
Felipa Gomez, Menchaca's 16-year-old cousin, said the military official who had been updating the family came with the news in the middle of the night.
"We had already expected it," she said, showing a poster full of snapshots of Menchaca that she had made the night before.
Friends and neighbors had decorated the front yard with yellow ribbons, American flags, and red, white, and blue silk flowers. A group of local veterans came to offer condolences.
Gomez said the body was expected home within a few days, and that Menchaca's wife, 18-year-old Christina Menchaca, of Big Spring, was going to come down for the funeral once it arrived.
The soldier's close-knit Mexican-American family described him as a sweet, quiet young man who joined the military last year and deployed to Iraq within months.
Tucker graduated from high school in 1999 and worked a variety of construction jobs before he decided to join the Army last summer. His friends said he liked to angle for catfish in the Prineville Reservoir and hunt deer in the Ochoco Mountains.
He enjoyed the adrenaline rush of being a part of the action, said his father, Wes Tucker.
The U.S. military recovered the bodies in an area it said was rigged with explosives. An Iraqi official said the Americans were tortured and killed in a "barbaric" way.
Spc. David J. Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass., was killed in the attack. The three men were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Ky.
After Iraqi officials disclosed that the bodies were found Tuesday, the Shura Council posted a Web statement, saying that the successor to slain Iraqi Al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's had "slaughtered" the soldiers. The language in the statement, which could not be authenticated, suggested the men were beheaded.
The insurgent group claimed the new leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq executed the men personally, but offered no evidence. The U.S. military did not confirm whether the soldiers died from wounds suffered the attack Friday or later killed.