EAGLE RIVER - Family and friends of a civilian contractor believed to be held hostage in Iraq remained hopeful Thursday as U.S. officials and Islamic militants issued conflicting reports about his death.
A thick yellow ribbon was tied to the front door of Ronald Schulz's empty house in a show of support for the former Marine. The foyer light has remained on since Schulz's apparent abduction was reported Tuesday.
"Everyone is still kind of holding out hope," said neighbor Sandy Boswell, who affixed the ribbon to Schulz's home on Thursday.
Someone else left a bouquet of red and white roses lying on Schulz's front stoop.
The Islamic Army in Iraq said Thursday it had killed "the American security consultant for the Housing Ministry," after the United States failed to respond to its demand of the release of Iraqi prisoners.
Schulz's name was not included in the statement, but family members identified the Eagle River man as the hostage shown in a video Tuesday by the Al-Jazeera network.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan on Thursday said he could not confirm the death and said he had no additional information on the matter.
Ed Schulz said the U.S. State Department indicated his brother may still be alive.
Schulz's family, speaking at a news conference Thursday in Fargo, N.D., asked his captors to spare his life.
"This is just our plea to get out there to let them know we want him home," said Schulz's sister, Julie.
Schulz, originally from Jamestown, N.D., served in the Marine Corps from 1984 to 1991. He moved to Alaska six years ago, and settled in Eagle River three years later.
Because his work often kept him abroad for months on end, Schulz, who is divorced, routinely left his home to caretakers.
Even when he was home in this suburb of 30,000 people just north of Anchorage, he appears to have mingled little with locals. Residents in bars, churches and coffee shops expressed concern for his safety, but none knew Schulz personally.
Bonny Stark of Chugiak, who was among his small group of friends, got to know Schulz through her children. They participated in youth sports with Schulz's younger relatives.
"All I have is memories of him being nice to my children, and his nieces and nephew," Stark said.