Croatian American, Ex-SEAL Among Four Killed in Iraq
Donna Zovko holds a photo of her son Jerry.
WILLOUGHBY, Ohio (April 2) - Two Army veterans and a former Navy SEAL were among four American
contractors killed in Iraq, their bodies mutilated and dragged through the streets.
Family members and a spokeswoman said Thursday that Jerko 'Jerry' Zovko, 32, Michael Teague, 38, and
Scott Helvenston, 38, died with another civilian Wednesday after they were hit by rocket-propelled
grenades in a rebel ambush. The victims worked for Blackwater Security Consulting, one of five
subsidiaries of Blackwater USA based in North Carolina.
Zovko's mother said she and her husband had suspected their son might be among the dead, but their
fears were confirmed Thursday morning when the president of Blackwater USA knocked on their door.
"It was the hardest day of my life," Donna Zovko said during an interview in her suburban Cleveland
"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."
Zovko's family wouldn't say whether he was married or had children.
"My brother was an exceptional individual," Tom Zovko said. "He did what he thought was right."
Jerry Zovko 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 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg in North
Carolina, Tom Zovko said.
Teague, of Clarksville, Tenn., 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 statement.
She called her husband a "proud father, soldier and American. ... I, his son Brandon and his friends
and family will miss him without measure."
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.
A friend, Sgt. John Ratliff, told CBS' ''The Early Show'' that Teague ''told me to promise to take
care of his wife and his son ... He knew it was rough over there.''
''In my opinion, Mike was caught in a situation to where he couldn't do anything for himself or his
counterparts,'' Ratliff said. He said he knew his friend ''would have done anything in his power'' to
save himself and the other three if it had been possible.
A third victim was identified as Helvenston by a family spokeswoman who said the family would comment
further on Friday.
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, starting a company called Amphibian
Athletics. He also was an actor and stunt man.
He helped prepare actress Demi Moore for her role as the first woman to join the Navy SEALs in ''G.I.
Jane,'' and appeared on two reality series: ''Man vs. Beast'' and ''Combat Missions.''
But after years out of the service, friends said they weren't surprised to learn the former SEAL had
left the comfort of his life in California behind him and headed for Iraq.
''That's what, in a time of need, true American warriors like Scott would do,'' said Mark Burnett,
producer of the 2002 reality series "Combat Missions."
Helvenston's fitness company, Amphibian Athletics, promised to bring a Navy SEAL-style workout to his
customers. His wife, Tricia, appeared in some of the company's workout videos.
Fred Atkinson, a neighbor of Helvenston's in Oceanside, said he was a devoted father to his children,
Kyle and Kelsey, and often took them camping or surfing.
On the day of the killings, jubilant Iraqi residents dragged two of the charred corpses through the
streets and strung them up on a bridge, acts the U.S. government denounced as "horrific."
The identity of the fourth victim was not immediately known. The names of the victims were not
officially released because all family members had yet to be notified, U.S. officials said Thursday.
Blackwater Security, based in Moyock, N.C., provides security training and guard services to customers
around the world. President Gary Jackson and two other company leaders are former Navy SEAL commandos.
A statement on the company's Web site said officials were grieving for the employees.
''Our tasks are dangerous, 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.''
04/02/04 08:04 EST
Copyright 2004 The Associated Press