Slain American told family not to worry

March 10, 1995|By Scott Shane and Norris P. West | Scott Shane and Norris P. West,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writer Tom Bowman contributed to this article.

When Gary C. Durell left his Severn home for Pakistan last November on yet another secret government assignment, his mother, Ellen Durell, for the first time felt uneasy.

"I had strange feelings about his going," Mrs. Durell said yesterday. "He said, 'There's nothing to worry about. We'll be safe.' He told me again and again not to worry."

Wednesday at 6:30 a.m., Mrs. Durell turned on the radio as usual at her home in Alliance, Ohio -- and heard her premonition confirmed. The news report said that Gary Durell, 44, was one of two Americans slain when the van carrying them to their jobs at the U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, was riddled with bullets.

Since 1977, Mr. Durell had worked for the supersecret National Security Agency at Fort Meade and then for the State Department, serving tours in England, Thailand and Djibouti in East Africa. Between overseas assignments, he returned to Maryland, living in Glen Burnie and most recently in the Wedgewood Forest subdivision of Severn.

Though his official assignment after 1985 was as a communications technician with the State Department, Mr. Durell told his family he was not permitted to discuss his work. NSA monitors foreign communications, sometimes using employees working under State Department cover overseas.

Judith Emmel, an NSA spokeswoman, confirmed that Mr. Durell worked for the intelligence agency from 1977 to 1985.

The other American killed was Jacqueline Van Landingham, 33, a secretary at the Karachi consulate who had worked for the State Department for nine years. Her hometown was Camden, S.C., but she was married to Baltimore native Lloyd Van Landingham and had lived in Baltimore briefly a few years ago.

The U.S. government announced yesterday that a $2 million reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the killings and the wounding of Mark McCloy, 31, of Framingham, Mass. Mr. McCloy, an employee of the consulate post office, survived by diving to the floor of the van and was in good condition yesterday with a bullet wound in the ankle.

The consulate van, which often carries as many as a dozen employees to work, was stopped at a busy downtown intersection in the Pakistani seaport when gunmen jumped from a stolen taxi and opened fire with AK-47 automatic rifles.

"I just know they started firing," Mr. McCloy told his hometown paper, the Middlesex News, from a hospital in Karachi. "They went up and down the van."

An FBI counterterrorism team arrived in Karachi yesterday to aid the search for the gunmen. Some U.S. officials have speculated terrorists attacked the van to avenge last month's arrest in Pakistan of Ramzi Yousef, who is accused of masterminding the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

Mr. Durell grew up in Alliance, a small industrial city where his father, Quentin Durell, was a machinist and his mother worked in the accounting department of a forging company.

Two years after graduating from high school, Gary Durell joined the Air Force, serving as a communications technician for four years in Texas and Italy, his mother said. In 1974 he returned to Alliance, working various jobs until the U.S. government contacted him about returning to communications work, apparently at NSA.

"He was a good one for that secret work, because Gary didn't talk much," his mother said.

Mr. Durell, an avid hunter and fisherman, was divorced several years ago from his first wife, Deborah, who lives in Naples, Fla., with their 10-year-old daughter, Victoria, his mother said. In May 1992, he was married in Annapolis to his current wife, Wanna, a Thai woman he met while working in Bangkok. She and her son, Not, 15, accompanied Mr. Durell to Pakistan.

As the couple packed for Pakistan last fall, a neighbor, Linda Romanowiz, asked how they felt about the move. "I said, 'Isn't that kind of scary?' He said, 'We're ready for it.' "

Mr. Durell's nephew, Eric Durell, 25, of Crofton, choked up as he recalled their parting. "He said the standard goodbye," he said.

Like Mr. Durell, Mrs. Van Landingham had worked overseas for years, working in secretarial positions in Saudi Arabia and Germany before moving to Pakistan, where she lived with her husband and their daughters, Ashley, 4, and Amber, 2.

Omega O. Van Landingham, a sister-in-law, said her brother's wife of six years was a "quiet and low-key" person who enjoyed reading mysteries and romances.

She lived in Baltimore when she was pregnant with her younger daughter, the sister-in-law said, and whenever in the city would attend St. Philips Evangelical Lutheran Church, she said.

"She loved her job -- the traveling, the level she was in," Ms. Van Landingham said. "She was a secretary, but it wasn't a plain secretary."

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