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Friends, Family Mourn Death of Georgia Man

September 23, 2004|Rennie Sloan and Ellen Barry | Times Staff Writers

MARIETTA, Ga. — In the neighborhoods where Jack Hensley delivered mail, ran a sports bar and taught middle school before taking a yearlong job as a contractor in Iraq, neighbors Wednesday were numb and horrified at the news that he had been beheaded.

Family members, who spent the early part of this week publicly pleading with Hensley's kidnappers for his release, secluded themselves inside the modest suburban home where he had lived with his wife, daughter and ailing mother.

Others who knew him said they were overcome by nausea and grief when they heard of his death.

"There was a dead silence in the office. People just had to leave," said Jackie Wood, human resources consultant at the Atlanta office of Getronics, where Hensley had worked for 17 years. "I think people wanted to be emotional alone."

Hensley would have turned 49 on Wednesday.

A trust fund established Wednesday morning for Hensley's daughter's education already had far exceeded her needs by Wednesday night, said Bruce Foster Bauman, who helped establish the fund. Bauman said the donations, which could amount to $1 million or more, were fueled by a sense of outrage.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday September 25, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 65 words Type of Material: Correction
Georgia contractor -- An article in Thursday's Section A about Jack Hensley, a Georgia man beheaded in Iraq, said that a trust fund established for his daughter Sara's education had far exceeded her needs and could amount to $1 million or more. The fund, set up by the Tega Cay Rescue Squad at First Citizens Bank in Fort Mill, S.C., collected $2,500 by Thursday afternoon.

"They're angry. They're angry about the fact that a nice guy -- a schoolteacher -- goes to a country and helps to rebuild schools and this is his fate," Bauman said. "I think the people in this country have had enough, and they're responding."

Hensley's headless body was handed over to U.S. authorities in Baghdad on Wednesday morning. A videotape of the beheading later appeared on a website used by Islamic militants.

Hensley and two other Westerners were kidnapped Sept. 16 from the Baghdad house where they lived as employees of Gulf Services Co., a contractor based in the United Arab Emirates. Another American, Eugene "Jack" Armstrong, about 52, was beheaded this week; a video of his execution surfaced Monday. A third hostage, Briton Kenneth Bigley, was shown Wednesday in a video, weeping and pleading for his life.

Neighbors paid visits to the Hensley home after learning of his death, passing containers of potato salad and roasted chicken through the front door. Inside, the phone rang incessantly. A minister who visited said that Pati Hensley spent Wednesday speaking with FBI investigators and arranging for the return of her husband's body. "I think they're exhausted," said Jerry Gladson, senior minister of the First Christian Church of Marietta. "They're in the initial stages of grief, where a lot of this is not real."

In an appearance on NBC's "Today" show, Hensley's brother described Pati as "extraordinarily devastated."

"She is a widow now," Ty Hensley said. "She is the mother of a 13-year-old daughter. She is also a caregiver of two mothers. What has fallen upon her is an extraordinary amount of weight."

The White House offered condolences to the Hensley family. His death also prompted a statement from former President Carter, who told Associated Press that, more than any other president in U.S. history, he had been "afflicted psychologically and politically by the holding of American hostages." During Carter's term, 52 Americans were held for more than a year in Iran. The former president went on to say that the open-ended U.S. presence in Iraq was contributing to the wave of violence.

Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) said in a statement that Hensley's death "shows us again why we must stay the course in Iraq and why we must redouble our efforts in the fight against terrorism."

In the days before Hensley's execution, his family told and retold the story of the financial considerations that sent him to Baghdad in the spring. A college math major and former computer executive, Hensley had operated a sports bar in an Atlanta suburb for two years, and then found himself in such financial straits that he was working three jobs -- delivering mail, working in a convenience store and substitute teaching at his daughter's school.

The stint in Iraq, helping to repair utilities and other structures, promised to relieve the family's financial pressures, his brother said. Before Hensley left for Iraq, he stopped by the post office to say goodbye, window clerk Vickie Jenkins said.

"We were anxious for him, but he felt like it was what he needed to do," Jenkins said. "He was putting his family first."

Wood, who shared an office at Getronics with Hensley until 2001, said he was not the type to run off after adventure. Hensley was devoted to his daughter, Sara, Wood said. In the afternoon, he said, when Hensley was at work and Sara had returned home from school, he kept in such constant contact with her that "it was almost like he had radar on her."

Emotions also churned through Hillsdale, Mich., this week as Armstrong's hometown of 9,000 learned of his death. Residents began to tie yellow ribbons around the trees at City Hall and placed flowers at the building's steps.

Unlike Hensley, Armstrong was a career adventurer who had worked as a field engineer in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Angola before marrying a Thai woman and settling down in Thailand. He had written a memoir about his time overseas and had hoped to get it published.

About 150 people gathered in Hillsdale on Tuesday evening for a vigil. "It hit home, that the violence could come even to Hillsdale," said the Rev. Millard Branson, who spoke at the memorial service.


Sloan reported from Marietta and Barry from Atlanta. Times staff writer P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago contributed to this report.

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