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Family of Martin Burnham Gives Press Conference

Aired June 7, 2002 - 10:01   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We start this hour first up on CNN with the Philippines rescue attempt of two Americans, who have been held hostage for over a year. Earlier this morning the relatives of the husband and wife missionaries spoke from their home in Kansas. They say they are numbed by this news, but they reassured by their religious faith.


DOUG BURNHAM, MARTIN BURNHAM'S BROTHER: We received word early this morning from the Philippine ambassador and also the Philippine president called to let us know that there was a confrontation with the military and the Philippine rebels yesterday, and in that confrontation, Martin was killed and Gracia was injured. We have word that Gracia was medevaced to a hospital. She has undergone surgery, and she is in stable condition.


Karen: Also killed in that rescue attempt a Filipino nurse kidnapped shortly after the Burnham's were. Our Jakarta bureau chief, Maria Ressa, is on the phone, and she joins us -- Maria.

MARIA RESSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, it has really been a heart-wrenching development. Martin and Gracia Burnham are Christian missionaries who lived in the Philippines for about 15 years. In fact, the night that they were kidnapped, they were celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary at a beach resort in southern Philippines.

Over the past year or so, we have seen pictures of them, and we have seen the toll that it has taken on them, extreme weight loss, at one point, in one of the tapes, both were crying in their appeals for help. They said that what held them together was their love for each other and their prayers.

Deborah Yap has a family of four children. She is the sole breadwinner of her family. The last time I spoke with her mother, her mother had said that they couldn't survive without her. Deborah's body has been taken to her family. Gracia Burnham, as you said, is in the hospital.

The head of the Philippine forces there tell CNN there are plans to move her to Manila later this evening, where it is said that her immediate family members are planning to meet her. He also said the body of her husband, Martin, is being flown back to the United States at the request of their family -- Daryn.

KAGAN: All right. Maria Ressa with the latest from Manila. It looks like Burnham's brother is holding a news conference from Kansas -- let's listen in for a little bit.


QUESTION: Do you think the military did the right thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't know the details of what happened. We trust them to do what was right, but we don't know the details. It has been a year. It's been frustrating for everybody trying to get them out. The real enemy is the Abu Sayyaf, who are ruthless killers, so we are not going to say one thing or another of whether anybody did the right or wrong thing.

QUESTION: Have you been able to speak with Rachel yet?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, we have not been able to. We understand she is being transported to Manila and will be under doctor's care there in the embassy. So I think that they will get a phone to her just as soon as they can.

QUESTION: Have you talked to any of their children?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, we haven't been able to. They are in Arkansas with their grandparents, and they will be coming whenever they can get things together and be able to get here. So their grandparents were able to talk to them and explain what has happened, and so they have -- they do know the news, but we have not been able to talk to them.

QUESTION: Did you have any idea that this rescue effort was going to be made today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, we had no idea that they had a rescue effort. We weren't even sure if they knew where they are. But we knew that they were trying to find Martin and Gracia and trying to get them out, and so -- but we had no idea that it would be today or anything.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So have you heard from (UNINTELLIGIBLE) sending flowers (UNINTELLIGIBLE) yard?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think they have left notes, and they have come and gone, and they have been very sympathetic towards us. And I am sure this isn't the last of it.

BURNHAM: The phone has been ringing off the hook from all different parts of the country, and people, as they are hearing the news, are sending their condolences as they can get through the phone line.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had a lot of support from the Rose Hill community in the past. we know that they have been supporting us very much, also the Woodstaw (ph) area, and even around the world, so we appreciate all of that. And we know that even though people may not say something, they are remembering us, and we appreciate that.

QUESTION: Will a member of the family (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We haven't made up our mind on that. A lot depends on when Martin's body arrives and her condition, and if she can come back for that, that would be good. But if not, we want to get the children to her as soon as possible.

QUESTION: I understand a member of the FBI is coming to Kansas City. Is that to investigate?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. They have just been a real friend us to. And as far as I know, they want to fill us in on al of the details, but mostly they have just been friends to us like many of the media and other people. And these have been personal friends that we have come acquainted with over the year. So it's more or less a personal visit.

QUESTION: When that phone rang this morning, you must have been thinking, this could be good news or bad news?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we did. We thought maybe it could be good news, but we have been waiting for a call. And it was very hard to take that news that it was probably a fatal accident. So it was very hard, but we have been waiting a long time for a call in the middle of the night, because in the Philippines, it is daytime. We figured it would probably come during the night. So we are -- we were surprised, but we knew that this is what we had to accept.

QUESTION: Have you made plans for the children at all?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, we need to talk to Gracia. We will be talking to her about it. We will work with her. She is the mother, and she has her plans and so we will be working together with her and her parents to see what can be done. Yes, it will be a lot of adjustment, but it is too early to make plans right now.

QUESTION: Do you have any thoughts or feelings on what you feel should happen in the Phillipines now (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we would like to see the military continue and take care of this Abu Sayyaf group. This is a terrorist group that has been hurting the Filipino people for a long time, and we know that it has been a real sore for them. And so we hope that they will be able to eradicate this kidnap-for-ransom gang and take care of many of the problems there. We are also hoping that the military will be able to show that they are there to support the people, and so that there will not be others raised up. And we do appreciate what the Philippine president is doing in trying to eradicate this group, and we appreciate the military's efforts in trying to do this.

OK, thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. KAGAN: We have been listening to the Burnham family as they make comments from their home in Wichita, Kansas. What a harrowing year, as they have watched and waited, waiting for better news than they received today about the fate of Martin Burnham and his wife Gracia Burnham, who are simply missionaries who went for a nice little trip to celebrate their 18th wedding anniversary and ended up being kidnapped by Philippine rebels. That ended today as Martin Burnham lost his life and Gracia Burnham is undergoing surgery, or has undergone surgery in the Philippines.

By the way, later you will be hearing more from Doug and Paul Burnham. That is the father and the brother of Martin Burnham. They'll be joining Larry King later tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.




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