AMHERST, N.Y. (AP) _ The family of an Army veteran-turned-contractor whose remains were recovered in Iraq this week say they're anguished by thoughts of what happened to him during his captivity.
Relatives of Jonathan Cote held a solemn news conference Thursday, a day after his remains were identified. Francis Cote said he is left with questions about what happened to his son during the 17 months after he and four other contractors were abducted while protecting a convoy of Italian trucks.
"Was he strong? Did they feed him? Was he starved to death? What are those things that happened to him?" the father asked.
But most of all, Francis Cote said, he wants to know when 25-year-old Jonathon died.
"What was I doing that very day is, in my mind, what I keep thinking about," the former Marine said.
The relatives want not only answers but justice for the unknown band that ambushed the Crescent Security Group contractors in November 2006. The remains of CSG employees Paul Johnson-Reuben of Minneapolis, Joshua Munns of Redding, Calif., John Roy Young of Kansas City, Mo. and Bert Nussbaumer of Austria were recovered last month. Also recovered were the remains of Ronald Withrow of Roaring Springs, Texas, who was working for JPI Worldwide and abducted on Jan. 5, 2007.
Earlier, the severed fingers of Cote and other hostages were sent to the U.S. military in Iraq.
"I don't want this to just be let go," said Jonathan Cote's older brother, Christopher.
Cote graduated from Williamsville North High School in 2001 and served in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division. He went to Iraq believing he could help people, family members said, and eventually planned to return to the University of Florida at Gainesville and start his own business.
The Cotes suspect the Crescent employees were set up to be ambushed, perhaps even by disgruntled Iraqi Crescent workers angry over their pay and treatment. The Iraqi employees working with Cote had failed to show up for work the day of the ambush, Francis Cote said.
"That was a red flag," he said.
He also suspects the hostages were passed among groups to the highest bidder.
"But in the end, I think they just got tired and decided that America is going to pay for us being there and Jon was one of those that paid the price," he said.
Jonathon Cote's autopsy results are expected in six to eight weeks.
"We do know that the others were tortured, that fingers were severed," the father said.
The other hostages appeared to have been killed two to six months ago, he said. Jonathon's body was covered with dirt, as if he had been buried, he said.
"The only thing you think of is these guys are just criminals and don't have any conscience. I mean, how do you do this to people?" he asked, his hands gripping a podium. "How do you do this to — to my son, to Chris's brother? Do they have brothers?"
On the Net: www.freecote.com
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.