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Excruciating wait for word on missing man

Colleene Higginbotham, of Macon, Miss., collects the mail for Kellie Hamill at her home in Macon, Miss., on Wednesday. Family members, neighbors, and friends are keeping a constant watch for any information on the fate of Kellie's husband Thomas Hamill, who was abducted last Friday in Iraq.  Rogelio Solis / AP
/ Source: NBC News

For this small southern town thrust into the national spotlight, waiting for news — any word at all — is the most difficult part.

Macon, with only about 2,500 residents, is the hometown of Thomas Hamill, 43, the American contract truck driver captured in Iraq last Friday after insurgents attacked his fuel convoy, and threatened to kill him unless U.S. troops withdraw from Fallujah.

In the downtown area, Jefferson Street is lined with American flags and yellow ribbons supporting the man known locally as Tommy. The lights on the county courthouse remain on day and night — a beacon to lead him home. A prayer vigil last Sunday night drew several hundred townspeople.

“We’re just taking it one day at a time, and we are hoping and praying — continually praying — that he is going to be released,” said Macon’s mayor Dorothy Baker Hines. In an attempt to be positive, Hines said she is planning a homecoming parade.

Excruciating for the family
Since the videotape of Hamill in the hands of his Iraqi captor was broadcast around the world over the weekend, there has been no further information on his whereabouts or condition. It has made for an excruciating ordeal for his wife, Kellie, their two children and other family and close friends.

In a videotape statement, Kellie Hamill, thanked the community and the nation for their support, and pleaded with the kidnappers, saying, “Our hopes are that you will release him unharmed, and as soon as possible.”

MACON, MS - APRIL 13: A resident hangs a flag and ribbon April 13, 2004 in Macon, Mississippi. Thomas Hamill, a resident of Macon and a truck driver for Kellogg, Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, was taken by gunmen who attacked the fuel convoy he was guarding in Iraq on April 9. According to reports the bodies of four men thought to be among the seven civilian contractors missing in Iraq since Friday were found today in a shallow grave near the site of the explosion of a convoy in which they were traveling. (Photo by Marianne Todd/Getty Images)Marianne Todd / Getty Images North America

With her children and other family members by her side, she said to her husband, “We love you and miss you very much.”

Throughout this tight-knit community there is concern and support for the Hamill family. Tommy was raised here, operated a farm, and drove a dairy truck. Kellie is widely regarded for her work as a 911 dipatcher, a job from which she is on leave while recuperating from heart surgery.

Today’s headline in Macon’s weekly newspaper, The Beacon, proclaims, “War in Iraq now focusing on capture of native son.”

“There is a lot of fear for his condition as this goes on. How good are they treating him? What are they telling him?” asked newspaper publisher Scott Boyd.

Of the Hamill family, Boyd added, “They’re very strong, and they’re coping as best as they can. The most frustrating thing for them is the lack of information.”

Small town family
In the small downtown business district, Kenny Miller spoke with a visitor about growing up with Tommy Hamill, and explained the widespread concern for Kellie and the children, “Around here, they’re family,” he said. “In a small town, you have to support them, regardless.”

Inside Senters hardware and appliance store where Miller works, a television news channel is on all day long. Co-worker Tom Hendrix said he keeps a constant eye out for any information about Hamill or other kidnap victims in Iraq, he said, “Not knowing is what’s hard.”

The international story of Hamill’s capture has brought scores of local and national journalists to Macon. Frequently, residents have approached reporters, asking for any information they might have gleaned from their home offices. The response is always the same: “Nothing yet.”

In a town waiting anxiously, and praying for one of its own, some have interpreted the silence from Iraq as a positive sign that Hamill is still alive, and will eventually be released.

It is the best hope, when nothing else is known.