A poster of Spc. Keith “Matt” Maupin is posted “almost everywhere they will let us put one up,” according to Matt’s dad, Keith Maupin.

A poster of Spc. Keith “Matt” Maupin is posted “almost everywhere they will let us put one up,” according to Matt’s dad, Keith Maupin. (Courtesy of the Maupin family)

Carolyn Maupin prays that out of sight doesn’t mean out of mind for her soldier son, taken hostage in Iraq this spring.

Despite rumors that Spc. Keith “Matt” Maupin might have been shot to death by insurgents, the Army assures the Batavia, Ohio, family that troops in Iraq continue their search for the captured 20-year-old truck driver and Army Reservist.

Keith Maupin believes his son was not executed.

“My son is alive. I just know it.”

Spc. Maupin, with the 724th Transportation Company, disappeared April 9 after an attack on his fuel convoy. On June 29, hours after U.S. officials turned over sovereignty to the interim Iraqi government, al-Jazeera reported that Maupin had been shot in the head. The station did not broadcast a video it said it had showing the death.

According to an Associated Press story in June, the Arab television network aired a video showing a blindfolded man sitting on the ground and identified as Maupin by a statement issued with the footage. Al-Jazeera said that in the next scene, gunmen shoot the man in the back of the head, in front of a hole dug in the ground.

U.S. military officials and Maupin’s father have seen still photographs taken from that video and cannot confirm the man shown being shot is Maupin.

Maj. Willie Harris, a spokesman for the Army’s Reserve 88th Regional Readiness Command, the transportation company’s parent command in Fort Snelling, Minn., said the photographs he saw were of poor quality and the hostage’s face was not visible.

“I did see still pictures of the alleged shooting, but the man was not discernible in the photos. It appeared to be a male with a blindfold kneeling down and he was seen from the back. I could not see his face.”

The video footage was grainy and the hostage’s face was not identifiable, according to Jihad Ballout, an al-Jazeera spokesman. “It was really obscure and we could not identify the person in the video,” he said from the station’s headquarters in Doha, Qatar.

Army officials won’t discuss the search for Maupin, who on April 23 was officially classified as captured.

“We don’t want to do anything or say anything … that may hinder any type of investigation or send the wrong messages to anyone who has him,” Harris said.

The lack of communication by Maupin’s hostage-takers might be by design, said Chris Hellman military policy analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation in Washington.

“If they know the U.S. policy is to not negotiate at all with hostage-takers, why do they take hostages? To sow fear and uncertainty in their adversary,” Hellman said. “Knowing the status of a person, be it dead or alive, is more reassuring to colleagues than not knowing. If your enemy is capable of disappearing you at their convenience and doing with you want they want, and leaving others guessing, wouldn’t that be unsettling to you?

“You don’t sleep and you spend a lot of time looking over your shoulder,” he said.

And to some degree, hostage-taking in Iraq “has become a business,” said Allen Keiswetter, a scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, and former deputy assistant deputy secretary at the State Department for Near East Affairs in 2000 and 2001.

“Some people who take hostages contract them out to other organizations for money. They may have sold him for some reward to another organization,” said Keiswetter, who is not familiar with the specifics of Maupin case and was speaking generally.

Updates about their son trickle into the homes of Spc. Maupin’s parents, a dearth of information that now leaves the family to rely on hope and prayers.

“There really isn’t anything new, and there hasn’t been for a while now,” Carolyn Maupin, 57, said. “He is still listed ‘captured, whereabouts unknown’ and all I know is that they are looking. [Army officials] guarantee me they are looking, but to what depth, I don’t know.

“They are looking, I honestly do believe that. I feel that.”

Keith Maupin said his days are marked “by highs and lows.”

“The lows are when I think he’d been shot. And sometimes visits from Army officials. Their visits, with no news, [are] like a roller coaster.”

The Maupins say what used to be near-daily visits from a casualty assistance officer in April and then in June, when reports of the videotape surface, have become sporadic visits or phone calls on no set schedule in which officials simply say they still are looking.

“They’re looking for him. Plain and simple,” Keith Maupin, 54, said. The specialist’s younger brother, Kent, is a Marine lance corporal who is not deployed. He has two older half-siblings, Leann and Steve Spencer.

In part to cope with grief, Keith Maupin runs the family’s support center that sells ribbon-shaped magnets in support of the troops for a “suggested $5 donation.” Proceeds go to buy and ship care packages to deployed troops. Troops can e-mail wish list to

Keith Maupin, himself a former Marine, did not try to talk his sons out of military life. “I never talked to the boys about it. I didn’t try to discourage it. I taught them to make their own decisions.”

His son’s role in Iraq makes him proud.

Now, if only they’d bring him home.

“In my heart, he’s alive, and wondering why they haven’t come and got him yet. That’s what I think. They need, have to, bring him home.”

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