Heald was killed in a rocket attack while working in the Project and Contracting Office at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Jan. 29. (Photo courtesy of John Heald)
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The 120 mm round came smashing through the ceiling of a ballroom in the former Republican Palace about 8 p.m. on Jan. 29. The room has been temporarily converted into a warren of work spaces for the contracting operation. The missile then crashed through the floor about 18 ft below. There is debate about whether it exploded, says Charlie Hess, the PCO director. An investigation is under way.

"From what we know it was the impact, not an explosion that killed them," says Hess, "It could have been much deadlier—if you are one of the folks who think it didn't explode. There are always could-have-beens," he added.

Killed were Navy Lt. Cmdr. Keith E. Taylor, 47, of Irvine, Calif., and Barbara C. Heald, 60, of Falls Church, Va. Heald was a Dept. of Defense civilian employee.

"They were great people," says Hess. "Very, very dedicated, valuable assets to our operation. Barbara, this was her third tour over here. She came over in the very early days. Keith was a fairly newcomer, but was also very dedicated and an important component of our First Response Team," he says.

Navy Reserve Lt. Cmdr. Keith Taylor was transportation and communications contracting chief
(Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy )

The First Response Network is a secure, national communications network for emergency first responders that is being developed under the reconstruction program by Lucent Technologies, Hess explained. Taylor, who had been in Iraq since Oct. 6, was the PCO's chief contracting officer for transportation and communications. He also dealt with contracts for water-treatment plants and schools. Hess says Taylor and the rest of the First Response Network team had just finished celebrating the launch of the network's first citywide coverage area, which blankets Baghdad with communications from 28 transmission towers. Fifteen other cities will be included in the system by August, which will have a national dispatch center operated by the Iraqi Ministry of Interior.

Taylor had five weeks left on a six-month deployment. A wife and three young daughters survive him. Funeral arrangements are private, according to a U.S. Navy spokeswoman.

Heald, who leaves behind three grown stepchildren, was a contract negotiator, working predominately in the oil sector, Hess says.

Her brother, John Heald, described his sister "a wonderful, vibrant, delightful, irrepressibly positive woman," and adds that she was also a "ferocious knitter"—to the point of posing for a photo in Baghdad with a knitting magazine in hopes of getting the picture published for its "unusual setting. He says Heald's co-workers will hold a memorial service in the 9/11 Chapel at the Pentagon on Feb. 3. Burial will be in Arlington National Cemetery.

Heald's sister, Margaret Geis, of Yuma, Ariz. says Heald was devoted to the reconstruction effort and stayed with it because "she wanted to be a part of history."

A close friend, Gabriele Mecca, also of Falls Church says before leaving for her third tour in Baghdad, Heald told her 'It is very dangerous, but I am not minding the danger. I really, really believe in what we are doing,' Mecca recalled. "She really felt very dedicated to the job. She was such a professional," Mecca says.

The army reports seven suspects were captured after the attack. "Apparently they were able to do a back-trace on the trajectory of the missile," Hess says. "I presume they used night vision equipment to identify people leaving the site and they followed them and captured them."

 

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rocket killed two and injured five Jan. 29 when it hit the U.S. Embassy complex in Baghdad on the eve of the Iraqi election. The projectile crashed through the roof of a portion of the building housing the reconstruction Project and Contracting Office.