Friends of Va. Hostage Gather to Help

Friends and spiritual advisers to U.S. hostage Tom Fox gathered yesterday to figure out how they can continue to serve the man whom Iraqi terrorists kidnapped two weeks ago and threatened to execute Saturday.

As of last night, no word had emerged on Fox's fate or that of three other western peace activists seized by a group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigade. Fox, 54, lived in Northern Virginia for more than 30 years. He first went to Iraq in September 2004 as a worker for Christian Peacemaker Teams, based in Toronto and Chicago.

Fox's support group from the Langley Hill Friends Meeting in McLean and other organizations met yesterday to talk about how to help him if he returns home.

"He's going to be exhausted and deeply in need of his own resources," said Jeanne Houghton of the Langley Hill Friends Meeting, where Fox is a member. "We're kind of thinking at this point: What do we do? And how do we support him and his family?"

Houghton said yesterday morning's service at the meetinghouse was not mournful but "inspiring."

"There was no weeping, no wailing, no yellow ribbons," she said. "Everyone is focused on Tom's purpose and our role as Tom's support community."


3 Teenage Friends Die in House Fire

Three teenage males sleeping over at a friend's house in the Keedysville area of Washington County were killed in a fire early yesterday, authorities said.

The victims, one 18 and two 17, were found in a second-floor bedroom of the two-story home on Hebron Road, Deputy State Fire Marshal Joseph Zurolo said.

The fire broke out about 5:15 a.m. in a second-floor bedroom where the 17-year-old son of the home's owner was sleeping along with four friends. The owner's son and a 15-year-old friend were awakened by the fire and tried to rouse the other teens but were unable to do so.

They also alerted the owner, Maxwell B. Hope Jr., 54. Hope, his son and the younger teenager escaped. "Basically, they ran for their lives," Zurolo said. "This was a very tragic fire."

Investigators believe the fire started in the bedroom where the teenagers had been sleeping. The cause is under investigation, and foul play is not suspected, fire officials said.

2 Arrested in Hagerstown Stabbings

Hagerstown police have arrested two Frederick residents, including a 14-year-old youth, in a double stabbing that left one Hagerstown man dead.

About 1 a.m. Saturday, officers responded to a report of a fight in the 100 block of West North Street, where they found Eliezer Rodriguez, 22, suffering from multiple stab wounds in his upper torso, Lt. Michael King said. Rodriguez died later at Washington County Hospital, King said.

Cesar Miranda Rodriguez, 27, who is not related to the slain man, was stabbed once in his upper torso. He was treated at the hospital and released.

Hagerstown and Frederick police arrested Irving A. Benitez, 14, and Angel T. Villatoro, 35, at their homes in Frederick on Saturday morning. They are charged with first- and second-degree murder, attempted first- and second-degree murder, carrying a concealed deadly weapon and two counts each of first- and second-degree assault, King said. Benitez was charged as an adult.

Man Burned, Residents Displaced in Fire

A small basement fire displaced at least 12 residents of a single-family rental house in the Wheaton Woods area and left one Montgomery County man with minor burns yesterday morning, a fire official said.

The fire at 13203 Keating St. started about 10 a.m. when the injured man, whom officials did not identify, was cleaning the basement floor with a flammable liquid. A nearby water heater probably ignited fumes, said Pete Piringer, a spokesman for Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service.

The 30-year-old man was taken to the Washington Hospital Center's burn unit, where he was treated for minor second- and third-degree burns over 5 percent of his body, Piringer said.

The Red Cross sent representatives to the house to help place remaining residents in temporary housing, he said.

The house appeared to have an illegal apartment in its basement, with no acceptable fire exit, Piringer said. It also contained no smoke alarms and was overcrowded. It sustained about $25,000 in damage, he said.

The fire was the latest in a string, including two fires earlier yesterday, that has made December a particularly eventful month for Montgomery fire crews, Piringer said. On Dec. 2, an 80-year-old man died as a result of a fire that caused $1.6 million in damage at the 9,000-unit Leisure World retirement community in the Aspen Hill area.


Pact Lets Trash Travel the James River

The James River Association, Waste Management Inc. and Charles City County agreed last week to allow barging of out-of-state trash in watertight containers up the river to a port in Charles City. From there the trash will go to a nearby landfill.

"If you look at the full potential of this for the region, I think it's the biggest thing since Metro."

-- Ronald F. Kirby, transportation planning director for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, referring to express toll lanes. -- A1

Compiled from reports by staff writer Amy Gardner and the Associated Press.

President Bush and first lady Laura Bush help Caroline MacKinnon, left, and Andrew McSlarrow deliver books for Children's Hospital patients before a taping of the "Christmas in Washington" program at the National Building Museum to benefit the hospital.