Local News

News About Deaths Of N.C. Firm's Employees In Iraq Hits Hometown

Posted April 1, 2004 2:37 a.m. EST

— Residents of the small town of Moyock, just south of the Virginia border in northeastern North Carolina, say the deaths of four employees of a local security firm help bring the conflict in Iraq closer to home.

The four civilians were killed and dragged through the streets of an Iraqi town Wednesday. They worked for Blackwater Security Consulting, one of five subsidiaries of

Blackwater USA

based on 6,000 acres in Currituck and Camden counties.

The company provides security training and guard services to customers around the world.

Blackwater President Gary Jackson and two other company leaders are former Navy SEAL commandos.

A neighbor of Blackwater's compound said the firm was a good neighbor and that the sound of gunfire can be heard from the company's shooting ranges.

Marty Huffstickler, 52, who said he works part-time as an electrician for Blackwater, said he did not know who was killed.

"I think they're dying for no reason," Huffstickler said. "I don't agree with what's going on over there. The people over there don't want us there."

The company said it will not release the names of the victims out of respect for their families.

Jubilant Iraqi residents dragged two of the charred corpses through the streets and hanged them from a bridge, which the United States denounced as "horrific."

Blackwater posted a statement on its Web site Thursday saying it grieves for those killed and announcing that a memorial fund has been set up.

"We grieve today for the loss of our colleagues, and we pray for their families," the statement said. "The names of the victims will not be released out of respect for their families.

"The graphic images of the unprovoked attack and subsequent heinous mistreatment of our friends exhibits the extraordinary conditions under which we voluntarily work to bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people. Coalition forces and civilian contractors and administrators work side by side every day with the Iraqi people to provide essential goods and services like food, water, electricity and vital security to the Iraqi citizens and coalition members.

"Our tasks are dangerous," the statement continues, "and while we feel sadness for our fallen colleagues, we also feel pride and satisfaction that we are making a difference for the people of Iraq."

A memorial fund has been established to support the victim's families. Blackwater said all memorial gifts will be documented and appropriately acknowledged with due regard to the wishes of the donor and the nature of the contribution.

People can mail their contributions to: Victims Compensation Fund PO Box 159 Moyock, N.C. 27958

Faye and Howard Forbes of Moyock were eating at the same diner and said the deaths brought the war home to the community best known for being on the route to North Carolina Outer Banks beaches.

"With what's been going on in Iraq I'm not surprised at anything," said 72-year-old Howard Forbes. "But I was surprised at what they did to the bodies."

Privately owned Blackwater USA's range of paramilitary services include providing firearms and small-groups training facilities for Navy SEALs, police department SWAT teams and former special operations personnel.

"We're very proud of the work that we do. We feel that we support a just cause," assistant training director Chris Epperson said during a visit last month.

The company's security consulting business connects former special forces troops with jobs that may involve protecting people or places, or training foreign militaries. Epperson said the company's contractors provide protection to Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq.

A job description posted on Blackwater Security Consulting's Web site last year described positions for independent contractors needed to provide executive protection.

Another job offer said Blackwater USA had a Defense Department contract "to train, equip, and permanently establish a Naval Special Operations Unit in the Azerbaijan Armed Forces." The manager responsible for getting the job done would be paid an annual salary of $130,000 to $150,000.

Other Blackwater USA subsidiaries train dogs and handlers for security work, and train pilots to land airplanes and helicopters on dirt landing strips.