Missing Iraq Vet May Have Phoned Home

The missing ex-Marine who vanished into the Florida woods earlier this month during a "combat flashback" is believed to have phoned a female acquaintance twice this week, his mother told ABC News.

"We can kind of confirm it because the nature of the conversation was very personal between the two of them," said Becky Hall, the mother of 24-year-old Eric Hall.

The first call came into the unidentified friend's cell phone early Thursday morning, Becky Hall said. The conversation lasted about 45 seconds with Eric Hall mentioning the names of the woman's children, she said.

Becky Hall said she alerted the local media and a local news channel aired a story about the phone call Thursday evening. Shortly after the broadcast, around 7:30 p.m., Hall placed a second call to his friend in Indiana, a woman his mother described as an old high school pal and confidant.

Eric Hall had apparently seen the newscast, his mother said, because in the second call he warned the woman that someone was coming to get her. The woman tried to prompt Hall to explain where he was and told him to call home, Becky Hall said, but the conversation, like the first one, was over in about 45 seconds.

"We feel like now he's trying to reach out," the missing Marine's mother said. "The message I'm trying to get across to him is that mom's here. I need you to call me. I need to hear that you're all right. And I love you Eric."

The former Marine, who suffered permanent injuries from an Iraqi bomb blast in 2005, exhibited some paranoia and what authorities described as a "combat flashback" when he fled from his grandmother's Florida home Feb. 3. Before fleeing, he began walking around the house shooting an imaginary gun at imaginary enemies.

Hall then took off on his motorcycle, which was later found lying in the middle of a road in Deep Creek, near Fort Myers, on Florida's west coast, with the engine running.

The Charlotte County Sheriff's Office called off its search more than a week ago, but Becky Hall and a cadre of volunteers led in part by retired members of the military continue to look for Hall in an area densely covered with trees and shrubs.

Earlier this week, the group discovered a military-style "spider hole," a camouflaged hiding place that they believe Hall dug. Near the roughly 2½-feet deep, 3 feet wide and 6 feet long hole was a Reebok footprint matching the shoes Hall was reportedly wearing when he disappeared.

Tracking dogs from the Southwest Florida K-9 Search Unit were immediately alerted to Hall's track using the scent from an article of clothing Hall's family provided, according to Becky Hall and Ret. Army Sgt. 1st Class Tim Baker, one of the volunteers involved in the search. A truck bed liner was found near the spider hole that could have been used to hide Hall's location during the day.

"I am 100 percent positive that he is in that area," Tim Baker said. "But he's feeling the pressure of everybody being in the woods, so he's going to continue to dig deeper."

Hall is thought to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from a June 2005 explosion that killed a fellow Marine and injured Hall's right arm, left leg, hip and the left side of his abdomen, according to his family.

His injuries were so severe that he spent 13 weeks in military hospitals in Germany and Bethesda, Md. He has undergone nearly 20 operations since the explosion and was granted a medical retirement by the U.S. Marine Corps. Before serving in Iraq, Hall served in Afghanistan, according to his mother. Hall frequently would wake up in the night after having nightmares about combat, according to his family.

Bob Carpenter, a spokesman for the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office, told ABC News that detectives were aware of Eric Hall's communication and were trying to figure out where the call originated. "We don't know if it's a pay phone or a cell phone," Carpenter said, adding that their first task would be to verify the legitimacy of the call.

"We still haven't confirmed if this is true, but at least we know he may be out there alive somewhere," Carpenter said. "He's got a mental issue, and we're trying to locate him to make sure he's well."

The behavior Hall exhibited the day he fled his grandmother's house is consistent with PTSD, which is often associated with combat veterans, according to Nadine J. Kaslow, a professor at Emory University's department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

Kaslow described three ways in which PTSD could manifest itself in men and women back from war: "re-experience" in which a person continues to think intensely about combat situations; "avoidance" in which emotions associated with trauma are beaten back; and "hyper-arousal" in which a person may act abnormally paranoid or jumpy.

Flashbacks can be a common symptom of PTSD, Kaslow said, but added that hallucinations may go beyond the disorder into some type of psychosis.

Becky Hall said her son is likely off his medications, which included both anti-anxiety drugs for his PTSD symptom as well as pain medications for his physical injuries.

Like the "spider hole" discovery, Thursday's phone calls give the ex-Marine's mother hope her son will be located.

"I feel like he's alive," she said. "But I don't feel he's as healthy a person. This has gone on for a long time. This is a long time to be in this state."