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Mom: My son was mutilated and I want answers

  • Story Highlights
  • Mom says she'd trade meeting the pope to meet with Blackwater's chairman
  • NEW: After seeing CNN report, Erik Prince says he'd be willing to meet with her
  • NEW: Donna Zovko responds: "I would like that"
  • Jerry Zovko was one of four Blackwater guards mutilated on March 31, 2004
  • Next Article in U.S. »
By Wayne Drash
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RITTMAN, Ohio (CNN) -- Donna Zovko walks to her son's grave. Tears stream down her face and she begins trembling amid a steady rain. She kisses her right hand and with it strokes her boy's headstone.


Donna Zovko stands next to her son's headstone. A wreath with 36 roses marks Jerry Zovko's birthday.

Three and a half years ago, she watched on TV as the bodies of her oldest son, Jerry Zovko, and three of his Blackwater colleagues were dragged through the streets of the Iraqi city of Falluja, burned and mutilated.

As horrifying as the pictures are, Donna Zovko -- a Catholic -- finds comfort in an image of her son's body before the mobs got to him. His eyes were closed, his mouth open, as if he were calling God "to take his soul."

"I just hope that he was referring to the Holy Mother or calling God to help him," she says, just steps from where her son is buried. Watch remembering "my Jerry" »

Donna Zovko also hopes that she will get some answers as to how -- and why -- her son died. Blackwater officials have not been forthcoming, she says.

After seeing Donna Zovko's story on CNN, Blackwater Chairman Erik Prince said of her: "I would be willing to meet with her without media present, out of fear of it becoming a media circus."

Donna Zovko would welcome such a meeting.

"I would like that. It would be one of my prayers answered. Maybe he'll tell me the truth," she says.

Then, she adds: "Why does it have to be 44 months before they tell us anything?" Video Watch a mom's message to Erik Prince: "Tell the truth" »

Two weeks ago, on October 26, Donna Zovko was at the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery to celebrate her son's birthday. A wreath adorned with 36 white roses -- 32 for his years alive and four for the birthdays he's missed -- stood next to the grave. Three yellow roses sat next to the headstone with a hand-written note: "Happy Birthday Jerry."

"I miss him more today than yesterday. But I love being here," his mother said.

Jerry Zovko, a former Army Ranger, had gone to Iraq as a security contractor to train Iraqi soldiers. When that contract ended in late 2003, he signed on with a different company, Blackwater, according to his mother.

On the mission in Falluja, he and his comrades Scott Helvenston, Mike Teague and Wesley Batalona were killed when they were ambushed in their two vehicles as they escorted three empty flatbed trucks.

House Report Findings

The House Oversight Committee issued a report in September on the events leading up to the Falluja killings. It said:

• Two men set to provide rear gun support were pulled from the Blackwater team

• Blackwater was "an unprepared and disorderly organization"

• Blackwater "ignored multiple warnings about the dangers" and failed to supply armored vehicles, machine guns, sufficient intelligence or even maps

Blackwater on Falluja

Blackwater responded to the House report by saying:

• Its men were "deliberately led into a well-planned ambush"

• The experienced military veterans in the team "had all of the resources they needed"

• "The entire Blackwater family mourns the loss of these heroic lives"

It was the death of Zovko and his comrades that led to the first major U.S. offensive in Falluja, lasting three weeks, and killing 36 U.S. servicemen.

Donna Zovko, a Croatian immigrant whose original name is Danica, told that Blackwater chief Prince paid a personal visit to her to inform her of her son's death. He also attended the funeral, and the company held a memorial service for her son and the other slain guards. After that ceremony, she said, she and her family were taken to a private room where they pressed for more details about the events surrounding her son's death.

She said she didn't get answers.

A congressional committee had a similar complaint about Blackwater not being forthcoming. In late September, the House Oversight Committee released a report on the deaths of Zovko and his three colleagues, saying Blackwater had "delayed and impeded" its investigation of the killings.

"Blackwater agreed to the Falluja mission before its contract officially began, ignored multiple warnings about the risks involved and did not provide its team with adequate equipment, intelligence or directions," the report said. "Mistake apparently compounded mistake."

Blackwater has taken issue with the House report. The incident in Falluja "was a tragedy in which no one -- but the terrorists -- are to blame," the company said in a recent statement.

Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said Donna Zovko is "a grieving mother, understandably so, and our thoughts remain with her and her entire family." Video Watch Donna Zovko's quest »

Today, Blackwater's Prince added this: "I was communicating with her all the way up until the time the lawsuit was filed." The Zovko family disputes that claim.

The company, which provides security across the globe, has come under intense scrutiny since its employees were accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians and wounding 27 others on September 16 of this year in a hail of gunfire in Baghdad.

Donna Zovko and the three other families who lost their relatives in the Falluja ambush have sued Blackwater, alleging the company failed to provide their loved ones with adequate gear, weaponry and support. Blackwater has denied the allegations and argued the men agreed to assume the risks of working in a war zone.

As for those who murdered her son, Donna Zovko said: "It's not mine to judge and I don't want to judge them. But it would be nice to know what happened to those people that celebrated the deaths of my son, Mike, Wes and Scotty. It would be nice to know if they had to answer to anyone besides God."

One day, she hopes to visit that site on Highway 10 in Falluja where the killings occurred to build a monument to those who died. "They can knock it down and I'll just build it back up," she said.

Don't Miss

This mother -- who arrived in the United States when she was 15, three years to the day before her son was born -- then walked over to Jerry's grave and said the Lord's Prayer.

"I'll see you Sunday," she said, rubbing the headstone.

She met Pope John Paul II in August 2004 after her son was killed and he told her "God has accepted Jerry's soul" -- comforting words that still give her peace. Video Watch why she would "give back" pope meeting »

"It was a big gift for me to see the Holy Father and to meet the Holy Father, but for the truth of my Jerry's death, I'd give it back," she said, choking back tears.

"I'd say, 'No, I want Blackwater to tell me everything.'"


Later that day, the tight-knit family gathered at a Croatian community center for dinner. Afterward, Jerry Zovko's brother, Tommy, watched his mom and dad walk through the darkness to their car as rain poured down.

"We try to live a normal life," he said. "But it's anything but normal." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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