Local News

Servicewoman From N.C. Found Alive In Kyrgyzstan

Posted September 9, 2006

— A U.S. Air Force officer who went missing earlier this week near the Kyrgyz capital was found alive and told police in the Central Asian nation she had been kidnapped, officials said Saturday.

Maj. Jill Metzger, 33, knocked on the door of a house in Kant, a town about 22 miles from the capital, Bishkek, shortly before midnight Friday and told its residents that she had been kidnapped, Kyrgyz Deputy Interior Minister Omurbek Suvanaliyev said.

Metzger, who disappeared while shopping for souvenirs in Bishkek on Tuesday, told Kyrgyz law enforcement agents she had been abducted by three young men and a woman in a minibus and held in a rural area about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Bishkek, Suvanaliyev told The Associated Press, citing local police in Kant.

She was exhausted and her hair had been dyed, he said.

Earlier, Metzger's father-in-law, Kelly Mayo, told The Associated Press in Colorado Springs, Colorado, that the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations said she was found on the side of the road with her head shaven, and he also indicated she had been kidnapped and beaten.

"I know she's coherent, and whoever had her let her go," Mayo said. "We've got her back. Praise the Lord."

Mayo said the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations notified the family Friday afternoon but gave few details. He said his son, Air Force Capt. Joshua Mayo, was elated after being told about his wife.

"I can't even describe it. He's just beside himself, just unbelivable joy," Mayo said.

Metzger's parents, John and Jeannette Metzger, had similar feelings of happiness upon hearing of their daughter's recovery. They feared for the worse when they received word that their daughter was missing, and tied yellow ribbons around the fence posts at their Henderson home in hopes of her return. On Friday, they got their wish.

"Overwelmed, happy," said Jeannette Metzger.

"We didn't realize Christmas was going to come in September and it couldn't be a better present,” said John Metzger. "Everytime we traveled, she said 'Mommy, Daddy'… I can't wait to hear her say, 'Mommy, Daddy' and there will be no words after that."

Metzger was serving a four-month stint at the Bishkek base with the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing. Her normal duty station is Moody Air Force Base in Georgia as a member of the 347th Mission Support Squadron. She had been scheduled to return to her U.S. base Friday.

Military officials said the newlywed, dressed in blue jeans and a sweater, vanished Tuesday during a shopping trip to a tourist hotspot in Bishkek, where she was searching for souvenirs to bring home to her family.

The so-called "cultural tours" are common for off-duty personnel. Her disappearance had baffled investigators.

A spokesman for Kyrgyzstan's Interior Ministry told The Associated Press earlier Friday that he had ruled out the theory that Jill Metzger was kidnapped. But the U.S. military said it was still considering all possible circumstances.

Interior Ministry spokesman Nurdin Jangarayev said Thursday that Metzger and another U.S. servicewoman were recorded on a security camera Tuesday afternoon as they entered TsUM, Bishkek's main department store.

She separated from her companion three minutes later, Jangarayev said. Over the next three hours, two calls were placed to her cellular phone but neither was answered, he said.

Col. Reese praised the Kyrgyz government, Bishkek law enforcement officials and the U.S. Embassy "for the rapid and thorough investigation resulting in the successful recovery of Major Metzger," the military statement said.

"Her recovery is fantastic news for her family and our military community," said Lt. Gen. Gary North, the commander of U.S. Central Command Air Forces, who was visiting the base at the time, according to the statement.

The military had 20 special agents looking for her in the Central Asian country.

The U.S. military has maintained an air base at Kyrgyzstan's main civilian airport since 2001, backing operations in nearby Afghanistan. The shopping center where Jill Metzger went missing, located about 35 miles from the base, is not a particularly dangerous area, said Col. Kevin Jacobson of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

Still, the military had instituted a new policy barring all off-duty personnel from leaving the base until the servicewoman was found. It was unclear late Friday whether that policy had changed.

Jill Metzger, who was sent out of Moody Air Force Base, Ga., as a member of the 347th Mission Support Squadron, followed her father's footsteps into the military. John Metzger is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel.

She's well known in her former hometown of Henderson for her athletic prowess. Jill Metzger was the first female at Northern Vance High School to letter in four sports -- track, soccer, basketball and volleyball.

"She's just a dynamite-type girl," said John Metzger.

Her parents said Jill Metzger will be flown to Afghanistan and then to Rammstein Air Force Base in Germany for further evaluation. From there, she will head back to the United States. Her parents said they hope she will return home via Raleigh-Durham International Airport to be reunited with her family.

Before her disappearance, Metzger had been scheduled to head to Dayton, Ohio, for the annual United States Air Force Marathon. She has twice won the women's division of the event. On Friday night, her husband said she may still make the marathon.

A week later, she was to travel with her husband to Jamaica for a belated 10-day honeymoon. That trip has been cancelled.

"Jill is a consummate happy-go-lucky person," her father-in-law said. "She doesn't see any kind of evil in the world. She's a wonderful, innocent person, and she would never think anyone would try and harm her."

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