In the 11 days since she set up camp just down the road from President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, Cindy Sheehan has gone from grieving mother and average American to the face of the country's increasingly boisterous antiwar movement
When she arrived in Crawford, Sheehan had a seemingly simple, albeit unlikely, request: an hour of the president's time to discuss her son Casey's death in the Iraq war. Now, as her vigil has received more and more notice, hundreds of people have joined Sheehan at "Camp Casey," as the encampment has become known and she has become a controversial icon of antiwar activists.
Being at the center of a political and media frenzy might be overwhelming for a former Catholic youth minister who never considered herself much of a political activist. But Sheehan has grown increasingly comfortable in the spotlight, and despite some biting criticism, she hasn't retreated from her stated goal.
"I've said I'll leave if he met with me, and I'll leave if he meets with me," she told reporters on a conference call on Tuesday.
In addition to requesting a meeting with Bush, Sheehan is now calling for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. She promised to send a similar message if the president agrees to meet with her.
"If George Bush comes out here today or if we leave here at the end of August, this is only the beginning, and we're not going to stop until our troops are brought home," Sheehan said. "I'm a mother out here who has a broken heart that doesn't want any other mothers to have a broken heart."
Like it or not, Sheehan has become much more than just a broken-hearted mom.
Sheehan, 48, grew up outside Los Angeles, one of three children in a tightly knit family. The family kept abreast of the news of the day, but never stressed public activism, according to Sheehan's sister, Dede Miller.
"We always kept up with current issues, but we were never really active in protests or things like that," Miller said.
Cindy married her high school boyfriend, Patrick Sheehan, at the age of 20. The couple had four children -- two boys and two girls -- and settled in Vacaville, Calif., midway between Sacramento and San Francisco. He worked as a salesman and she spent years volunteering at their church, eventually working there as a youth minister. She later took a job with the Napa County Department of Health and Human Services. By all accounts, it was a typically American family.
But the family's story took a tragic turn on April 4, 2004, when Casey, the Sheehans' oldest son, was killed while serving as an Army specialist in Iraq. Casey, a former altar boy and Eagle Scout, had recently re-enlisted and was killed on his fifth day in Iraq. Grief stricken, Sheehan was dismissed from her job four months later after taking too much time off work to mourn Casey's death.
"She would give all of this up in a second if she could have Casey back. Her goal in all this is to make sure no more mothers have to feel what she feels," Miller said.
After her son's death, Sheehan gradually became more politically outspoken. She met briefly with Bush last year at an event for the families of fallen soldiers, but she now says the president seemed disconnected. As news about flawed pre-war intelligence trickled into the media in the months that followed, her grief turned to anger about the decision to send troops into Iraq.