Yellow ribbons still fluttered and prayers for a safe return were spoken more fervently than ever, but hope that Army Spec. Keith M. Maupin would come home from Iraq alive dwindled Tuesday along Schoolhouse Road.
Relatives and friends of the 20-year-old American captured in April remained cloistered in the Maupins' red-brick rambler here while awaiting analysis of a videotape that showed the apparent execution of a U.S. soldier.
Neighbors who had embraced the family began to think the worst, imagining a funeral in place of the many vigils that had brought the community together since the April 9 ambush of an Army fuel convoy near Abu Ghraib.
"If it's true, it's terrible," said Joe Brueggemeyer, visiting the Union Township Veterans Memorial Park. "I don't know how parents who have children in Iraq function from day to day."
Brueggemeyer was among many residents who said that the Maupins' ordeal forced them to pay attention to the battle for Iraq in a way they had not expected -- and raised questions about the U.S. mission that they have difficulty answering.
"I have doubts," said Brueggemeyer, a retired accountant who flies an American flag from the roof of his car and has a son on Army active duty. "I'm 61 years old and I don't think I'm going to live to see democracy in Iraq. And I'm not sure my children will."
Army Maj. Willie Harris emerged from the Maupins' house -- which is bedecked with yellow ribbons and bunting and sports a Bush-Cheney '04 sign in the front yard -- to say the family had not seen the videotape and did not intend to do so.
"They're letting the professionals do what the professionals do," Harris said. His colleague, Maj. Mark Magalski, added that the Maupins are "still very cautiously optimistic."
"They're awaiting official word from the Department of Defense," Magalski said.
Maupin, known as Matt, is an Army reservist who played tight end and kept a 3.5 grade point average at nearby Glen Este High School, where well-wishers have been leaving flowers and flags since Iraqi insurgents attacked his 724th Transportation Company convoy with bullets and rocket-propelled grenades.
Nine Americans disappeared. The bodies of four civilian contractors and a soldier were found later. Thomas Hamill, a driver from Mississippi, was captured but freed himself. The others are missing.
Maupin's family and friends in this southwestern Ohio community took heart in mid-April when Arabic-language television broadcast video showing the young soldier alive, although surrounded by masked gunmen. He identified himself and said he was the father of a 10-month-old son.
That was the last anyone heard until Monday, when the execution tape surfaced. Local officials and U.S. military officers converged on the home on Schoolhouse Road, but Pentagon officials were quick to say that there was no confirmation that the scene in the video was a killing, or that the soldier was Maupin.
Yellow ribbons hang from trees and mailboxes, lapels and automobile grilles, signifying the hope that Maupin will make it home. A sign at Willowville Elementary School says: "Thank you for serving, Matt. We're thinking of you." A sign at Uncle Bob's Self Storage says, "Our prayers are with Matt."
Over at the high school fence, first-grade teacher Kitty Hapner said she could not stay away: "I came over here just to feel closer. I just want him to be okay. I cry all the time."
In this corner of Ohio, a critical battleground state in the November election, Maupin's capture has given the Iraq conflict a personal twist and, for some, a political one.
"Everyone I have talked with has raised questions about the war," Hapner said. "I told my husband yesterday that I'm afraid if Bush is reelected they'll reinstate the draft."
Army veteran Clyde Horn, 45, pulled up on his Harley-Davidson to leave a weather-beaten flag he had flown from the handlebars since 1990 and a placard written by his 10-year-old daughter that said "Freedom is not free. God bless you."
"The flag means a lot to me, and I wanted to give it to them. The greatest sacrifice anyone can give is their life for their country," Horn said. But he drew a distinction between Maupin's commitment to duty and a war for Iraq that leaves him troubled.
"I don't agree with his philosophy," Horn said of President Bush, "but I do agree to support our troops. I don't know if they've accomplished anything."