Sunday, June 09, 2002

Rebels expected attack, ex-hostage says

Sister leaves Ohio for Philippines

By Emily Swartzlander
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — For more than a year, missionary Gracia Burnham's husband sang her to sleep every night to keep her calm as they waited and hoped they would be rescued from Muslim extremists holding them captive in the Philippines.

Mary Jones
Mary Jones
        On Saturday, Mrs. Burnham's sister — Butler County school counselor Mary Jones — flew to Manila to bring her home after U.S.-trained Philippine commandos freed her in a gun battle with the rebels.

        Her husband, Martin Burnham, and a third hostage were shot to death in the ambush Friday.

        “She told me yesterday that every night he would sing to her,” Ms. Jones said. “Songs that she didn't even know he knew, just because he knew it made her feel better. He really comforted her.”

        Mrs. Burnham, 43, of Wichita, Kan., was shot in the thigh.

        Ms. Jones, who lives in Jamestown, Ohio, said the couple had sensed something was about to happen because the Abu Sayyaf rebels kept the hostages constantly on the move for more than a week and had not fed them for nine days.

        When they set up camp, the rebels stationed the hostages inside tents between them and where they thought the military would come, Ms. Jones said.

        “So when the shooting started they were immediately caught in the cross fire,” she said.

        “They both knew that they were hit right away, but (Gracia Burnham) said that she could still breathe fine, so she thought that she was OK.”

        Mrs. Burnham told her sister that she crawled to her husband, noticed blood on his upper body and knew his wounds were more serious.

        Mr. Burnham died during the assault while both were on the ground inside the tent, with him partially covering her, Ms. Jones said. Also killed was Filipino nurse Ediborah Yap. Four rebels also died and seven soldiers were injured in the shootout, the military said.

        Ms. Jones, who was active in efforts to obtain the couple's release, said her sister sounds “incredibly good.”

        “I think perhaps the full impact of her grief has not hit her yet,” she said.

        Mr. Burnham's body arrived Saturday at Kadena Air Base on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, while Mrs. Burnham remained in the Philippines for medical treatment, said Kadena Tech. Sgt. Adam Johnston.

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