Saturday, June 4, 2005
The Morning Read: Devoted daughter
Westminster woman continues search for father taken hostage in Iraq.
The Orange County Register
Westminster - For one day, Roy Hallums was front-page news.
He led TV news broadcasts, and the world watched as the worn and haggard man pleaded for his life in a video released by Iraqi insurgents holding him hostage.
His daughter, Carrie Cooper, and ex-wife, Susan Hallums, did the New York talk-show circuit, begging for help to find him.
But just as quickly as Hallums became the day's top story, his desperate situation was overshadowed by the next day's news. And since Jan. 25, the day the video was released, no one has heard about Roy Hallums.
Cooper, of course, hasn't forgotten. She hasn't given up hope. And she hasn't stopped trying.
The 29-year-old Westminster woman and her mother, Susan Hallums, have spent the months since their whirlwind talk-show tour on various projects with a single purpose - "Save Roy."
Cooper, a marriage and family therapist intern, created a Web site chronicling her dad's life with pictures and stories about her family. She drives around town in a Toyota covered with stickers that say "Free Roy in Iraq" and "Half my heart is in Iraq."
She spends hours scouring news sites, blogs, military sites and other Internet portals for information.
Roy Hallums, who worked for a Saudi Arabian company providing food for Iraqi soldiers, was abducted Nov. 1 along with five others from the two-story compound where he was living in Baghdad.
Early in his disappearance Cooper found nuggets of information on Filipino Web sites - one of the men abducted with Hallums was a native of the Philippines - but that information soon ended.
The government doesn't "tell us a lot because they don't want to jeopardize the investigation," said Cooper, adding that she's been told people are looking for him.
She's also been in touch with the Saudi Arabian company her dad worked for but declines to say much about it.
A spokeswoman for the FBI declined to comment on Hallums' case.
Wavering between confusion, hope, sadness and desperation, Cooper has tried to stay busy to prevent her emotions from overwhelming her.
"I felt a lot of depression and anger," Cooper said. "It's a mixture of feelings."
She works most days and takes evening classes toward her doctorate degree in clinical psychology. But the search for her dad has taken its toll on everything, including her ability to stay focused.
"One day I might feel OK, and the next day I might feel really depressed. It goes up and down," she said. "Everything we do is to keep my dad's memory alive and promote awareness of his situation."
Hallums moved to Saudi Arabia about 13 years ago for a better job. His wife and two daughters stayed behind, and he sent money home to support them.
"It was hard, but I knew he was sacrificing being with us to provide for us," said Cooper, a self-described "Daddy's girl."
"That's what he thought dads were supposed to do."
He called often and visited yearly, and Cooper visited him once the year after she graduated from high school.
The two shared many interests. While her sister, Amanda, enjoyed shopping with her mother, Cooper preferred fishing with her dad.
"I loved to be outdoors, and so did my dad," she said. "He showed me how to play chess."
She thinks often about the time they spent together. And she keeps a class ring he always wore when she was younger.
Cooper saw her dad last summer when the family got together in Memphis, where her sister lives. They ate, shopped and celebrated Hallums' birthday. Hallums bought a house there, hoping to retire in a few years. And he talked about buying a boat so he could go fishing in the lake behind his home.
Cooper kept in close contact with her dad while he lived abroad, especially in recent years with the help of e-mail.
Rarely did three days pass without an e-mail from her dad. And if he took too long to respond, Cooper quickly reprimanded him.
"I thought you'd been kidnapped or taken hostage," she wrote back. "Saudi Arabia isn't as safe as it used to be."
Hallums knew his daughter worried. That's probably why he never mentioned last summer that he'd be returning not to Saudi Arabia, but to a new job in Baghdad.
She remained in the dark until she received a call from the State Department with news of his abduction.
Cooper and her family were advised by the government not to talk publicly about her dad's disappearance, and it wasn't until the video was released almost three months later that the world learned about Roy Hallums.
The once-unknown name now garners 13,200 hits on Google, thanks in part to Cooper's efforts to get the word out about her dad.
Every day is a struggle, but prayer has helped her. And she's sure that her dad is also calling on his Christian faith to get through his days, wherever he is.
A few weeks ago Cooper attended a parade of heroes, where her dad was honored.
And she's planning a candlelight vigil on the beach for his 57th birthday on June 23.
Cooper's sister recently got a friend to help draw up a flier in Arabic offering a ,000 reward for Hallums' return, and they arranged for military friends in Iraq to distribute the information.
The flier shows a picture of a younger Hallums dressed in a tuxedo at Cooper's wedding and a screen shot taken from the hostage video.
"He seemed really scared in the video," Cooper said. "Seeing my dad rubbing his hands, looking emaciated, the sunken-in eyes, his voice trembling, his hands shaking. It didn't look like my dad."
The bearded figure in the video hardly resembled the confident, calm, easygoing father with a sparkle in his eyes.
Not knowing where he is, whether her efforts are reaping any rewards, and dealing with the sometimes cruel messages left in her online guest book (one person wrote, "I can't wait to see your dad's head cut off") all take their toll.
Add to that the lack of media interest, and Cooper turns angry.
She's thankful and appreciative for the outpouring of support she's received personally and online, but watches angrily as Michael Jackson, the "runaway bride" and "American Idol" attract hours and hours of TV coverage and wonders where the country's priorities lie.
"In other countries there's outrage and protests and vigils (over hostages). In our country, their picture is up there one day and then it's gone," said Cooper, her frustration evident.
The day she heard he'd been abducted, Cooper quickly sent an e-mail to Hallums, telling him she loved him and missed him. That was in November.
She still waits for his reply.
For more information about Roy Hallums and the candlelight vigil, visit Cooper's Web site at www.royhallums.4t.com.
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