Mothers Say Mistakes Led to Fallujah Tragedy

Searching for Answers

In the difficult year after losing her son, Helvenston-Wettengel says she sought out more details about what really happened last March 31. Searching on the Internet, she found Donna Zovko, the mother of another victim, 32-year-old former Army Ranger Jerry Zovko. Together they asked Blackwater for further details of their sons' deaths. They say they were dumbfounded by the response.

"At one point, we were actually told -- my [other] son, my husband and myself -- that if we wanted to see the paperwork of how my son and his co-workers were killed that we'd have to sue them," said Zovko, of Cleveland.

"They told me the same thing," Helvenston-Wettengel said. "They said we'd have to sue them, so OK, we're gonna sue you."

Along with family members of the two other Blackwater employees in the convoy, Mike Teague and Wesley Batalona, Zovko and Helvenston-Wettengel brought suit against the company, and they say they found themselves confronted with some troubling new information.

Ill-Equipped and Undermanned

One startling discovery was that when their sons were dispatched on the dangerous mission, they were not sent out in heavily armored vehicles. Armored vehicles, which cost about $100,000 each, are able to deflect small-arms fire. Instead, the men were sent out in simple SUVs with only reinforced back bumpers, according to Helvenston-Wettengel.

"I'm a very forgiving person, but I don't think I will ever forgive them for that. And I think it was all about greed and the dollar," Helvenston-Wettengel said.

Also, according to Dan Callahan, the lawyer for the families, under the Blackwater contract for the mission, six men were to be in the detail, three for each car.

But a video taken by the attackers shortly after the men were killed shows that Blackwater had only sent two men for each car, leaving the rear gunner lookout post empty.

"These insurgents were able to walk right up to them and shoot them point blank with small arms weapons," Callahan said. "Had they had no armored vehicle but the third person with his eyes open looking backward, they could've taken defensive action."

Compounding the problem, Blackwater did not give the men maps of the area, according to what some employees have told the mothers, possibly contributing to the critical turn missed by the convoy that morning. Instead of taking the road around Fallujah, they headed straight into a city where Americans are coveted targets.

"Total neglect," Callahan said. "They put people out there into harm's way, without really caring about their life."

Helvenston-Wettengel said she was sick when she found out. "I threw up," she said. "I literally threw up."

Office Politics?

And finally, there is the e-mail Helvenston's mother discovered her son had sent to the president of Blackwater just before he left on the convoy. "It is with deep regret and remorse that I send you this e-mail," Helvenston began the message. "During my short tenure here with Blackwater I have witnessed and endured some extreme unprofessionalism."

Helvenston also described a clash with other Blackwater personnel, who he wrote had the attitude: "Let's see if we can screw with Scotty."

"He was told at 3 o'clock in the morning that he's gonna be leaving at 5 o'clock in the morning, with a different group," Callahan said. "He had never met these people, never had any opportunity to test his weapons, but he was jerked out of his team, and put into another."

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