- The Washington Times - Friday, June 18, 2004

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) — The grieving family of an American beheaded by al Qaeda militants spent the day in seclusion at a town house decorated with yellow ribbons yesterday as state and national leaders condemned his killing.

Those close to the family of Paul M. Johnson Jr. were horrified by the slaying in Saudi Arabia. “They just can’t keep taking American hostages, doing that to them, and putting it on the Internet for everybody to see,” said John Hayes, a childhood friend of Mr. Johnson.

An al Qaeda-linked group said yesterday it had killed Mr. Johnson, 49, posting an Internet message that showed photographs of a beheaded body. The statement, along with three still photos, was published on a Web site where the group frequently makes announcements.

The statement appeared around the time that a 72-hour deadline set by the kidnappers ended. Militants threatened to kill him by yesterday if the kingdom did not release its al Qaeda prisoners.

Mr. Johnson’s relatives were at his niece’s house in Galloway Township, in southern New Jersey. A man who was standing in front of the home identified himself only as “Bill” and said the family did not want to talk to reporters.

Mr. Johnson’s employer, Lockheed Martin, issued a statement yesterday afternoon expressing the company’s grief. At the time of his abduction, Mr. Johnson was working on targeting and night-vision systems for Apache helicopters.

New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey called his death “a horrific tragedy for all who value decency, integrity and freedom.”

The slaying sent shock waves through the communities in New Jersey where Mr. Johnson grew up, and in Florida, where he later moved.

In suburban Philadelphia, the family of American businessman Nicholas Berg, who was beheaded in Iraq last month, offered condolences to Mr. Johnson’s family and others who have been killed in Iraq.

New Jersey politicians uniformly denounced the killing.

“I am utterly appalled at the brutal, heinous murder of Paul Johnson,” said U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine.

Mr. Corzine and fellow New Jersey Democrat, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, had met Tuesday with the Saudi government’s top foreign policy adviser, Adel al-Jubeir, in hopes of getting Mr. Johnson freed.

Candlelight vigils were held Thursday night in Mr. Johnson’s hometown of Eagleswood Township and in Florida, where he lived before moving to the Middle East. About 100 people, including Mr. Johnson’s niece and daughter, attended the New Jersey vigil.

More than 200 people attended the service in Port St. John, Fla., where Mr. Johnson’s son, Paul Johnson III, lives. In the younger Mr. Johnson’s neighborhood, yellow ribbons were tied around dozens of trees, and well-wishers paid their respects at his empty home.

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