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Published: Friday, 4/2/2004

Ohioan among 4 security guards slain in Iraq

FROM THE BLADE'S WIRE SERVICES
Jerko "Jerry" Zovko Jerko "Jerry" Zovko
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WILLOUGHBY, Ohio - An Ohio Army veteran was one of four American security guards whose bodies were mutilated and dragged through the streets in Iraq, family members said yesterday.

Jerko "Jerry" Zovko, 32, died Wednesday when the vehicle he was in was hit by rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire.

It and an accompanying vehicle were then set ablaze.

Frenzied, riotous mobs dragged the burned and mutilated bodies through the streets of the Iraqi town of Fallujah and hung two from a bridge.

Mr. Zovko's mother, Danica Zovko, said she and her husband, Jozo, suspected their son was one of the dead late Wednesday, because he had been working in Iraq.

Their fears were confirmed yesterday when the president of Blackwater USA, the private security consultant their son was working for, knocked on their door, and told them their son had died.

"It was the hardest day of my life," she said.

Blackwater, of Moyock, N.C., is a security company that hires former military members with Special Operations background from the United States and other countries to provide security training and guard services.

A Blackwater spokesman said the men were guarding a convoy on its way to deliver food to troops under a subcontract to a company named Regency Hotel and Hospitality.

Family members said Mr. Zovko wanted to work for peace in the world.

"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."

The Zovkos' suburban Cleveland apartment was crowded with grieving relatives, most too distraught to speak with reporters.

"My brother was an exceptional individual," Tom Zovko said. "He did what he thought was right."

Jerko Zovko was a Euclid High School graduate who 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 Special Forces in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Tom Zovko said.

Mr. Zovko last lived in the Cleveland suburb of Euclid in 2001, then began a career overseas with Blackwater, his mother said.

The Zovko family would not say whether he was married or had children.

Another victim was identified by family members as Michael Teague, 38, of Clarksville, Tenn.

He 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.

Mrs. Teague 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.

Mr. 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.

Another victim was identified last night as Scott Helvenston, 38, according to his family. Mr. 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.



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