-- Athol and Jane Riley sat at home today, watching the flickering images of a statue of Saddam Hussein toppling over in Baghdad, seeing a moment of celebration for many Iraqis and of hope for many Americans that the war may soon be ending.
The Rileys were not celebrating, but they were holding on to hope. Their son, Army Sgt. James J. Riley, is one of seven American prisoners of war. Even as U.S. troops strengthened their hold on the Iraqi capital today, the Rileys and the other families of those taken prisoner still had no news.
The Army does not know where they are. The International Red Cross has no word on their conditions. Consequently, the families know nothing, either.
"If I knew the Red Cross had seen them and they were being looked after, that would be satisfactory to put my mind at rest," Athol Riley said tonight in their home here, his wife at his side.
Their life has been transformed since their son was captured March 23. Only days later, their daughter Mary, who was 29, died from a rare neurological disease, and they since have spent their time mixed in grief over one child and anxiety over another.
The Pentagon lists four other members of Riley's 507th Maintenance Company as prisoners after they were ambushed in southern Iraq: Spc. Edgar Adan Hernandez, 21, of Mission, Tex.; Spc. Joseph N. Hudson, 23, of El Paso; Spc. Shoshana N. Johnson, 30, of El Paso; and Pfc. Patrick W. Miller, 23, of Walter, Kan. Also, Chief Warrant Officer Ronald D. Young, 26, of Lithia Springs, Ga., and Chief Warrant Officer David S. Williams, 30, of Orlando were taken prisoner when their helicopter was shot down March 23.
Athol Riley said he hopes that U.S. officials will seek help from leaders of Syria, Jordan and other Middle Eastern nations to gain the release of the POWs. One of their greatest worries, Jane Riley said, was "who has them, what factions or what person, whether they'll use them to negotiate for their own ends."
Defense officials suggested leaders of Hussein's government might use the POWs as bargaining chips to ensure their own survival and escape, and said finding them has become of paramount importance. They noted that Red Cross officials did not have access to American POWs in the first Gulf War until the very end of hostilities, and that they have not determined what happened to Navy pilot Scott Speicher, who disappeared on the first night of that war in 1991.
"POWs were always very valuable to this regime," one official said. "And with the Speicher case, they learned the value of POWs to us."
Special Operations forces have sealed off roads heading into Jordan, Syria and Iran, as well as routes in and out of Tikrit, Hussein's last stronghold, in hopes of finding Iraqi leaders and the POWs.
Still, that has been little consolation for the families.
"We are suffering here and our children are suffering over there, and essentially it's two wars -- my son over there and me, fighting my anxiety here," Hernandez's father, Jose, said in an interview from his home in Alton, Tex.
Hudson's mother, Anecita, spends her days praying and scouring television news reports for some word on the solider she calls "my Joe."
"I just hope that means they're going to find my Joseph out there," she said of the latest news from Baghdad. "I have faith that he is alive and waiting to be rescued -- I feel it in my heart. But I want good news."
Gene Madeam, the uncle of POW Johnson, said her family also had not heard news of the prisoners. The military is "doing their best to find these folks," he said in a telephone interview from Brooklyn.
"We are trying to keep Shoshana's name out there, alive -- to let her know that there is concern for her. We want people to let her know we're concerned about her health because the last time we saw her, she had a bandage on her foot."
He said that a military liaison from Fort Bliss, Tex., makes daily calls or visits to Shoshana's parents, Claude and Eunice Johnson of El Paso, "just to check to make sure everything is okay and whether there is anything that can be done from a military standpoint."
Many of the families have been troubled by word from the Pentagon that bloodied American military uniforms were found in Baghdad. But today a Navy spokesman said there were no details on who the uniforms belonged to or if they were from the POWs.
At the Pentagon, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed concern about the prisoners, urging the Iraqis holding them to allow visits by the International Red Cross.
"The Geneva Convention requires you to ensure their health and well-being," he said. "When the hostilities end, we fully expect to find these young men and women in good health and well cared for."
Meanwhile, the Senate voted 99 to 0 today for a resolution expressing Congress's "outrage at the flagrant violations by the government of Iraq of the customary international law" governing treatment of POWs. The resolution expressed agreement with President Bush that Iraqi officials and military personnel will be held accountable for any violations.
Staff writers Helen Dewar, Anne Hull, Vernon Loeb, Sylvia Moreno and Jonathan Weisman in Washington and Lois Romano in Tulsa contributed to this report. Hockstader reported from Austin.