Journalist kidnapped in Gaza Strip has local ties

Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Melissa Seabaugh shoveled mud off Nottingham Drive in Cape Girardeau on Tuesday with her 2-year-old son, Ryan. Mud slides down the hill from a nearby construction site and settles in front of her house, left, whenever it rains. (Diane L. Wilson)

MORLEY, Mo. -- For Morley couple Mark and Marsha Centanni, two weeks of anxiety and lack of sleep finally ended Monday when word came that Fox News journalist Steve Centanni was released from captivity in Gaza.

The Centannis have a special connection to the now-freed journalist -- he's Mark's brother. For the two weeks that Steve was held captive, Marsha said she and her husband were on a steady diet of cable news and e-mail alerts -- their best source for information about his ordeal.

"A lot of the information we got came through the Internet or TV before they could actually get in touch with all of us," said Marsha. "At different times during the night I'd get up and be thinking about it, and I'd get up and turn the Internet on at home or turn on the TV and see what else is going on."

Steve Centanni disappeared on Aug. 14 when he and Olaf Wiig, a cameraman from New Zealand, were kidnapped at gunpoint from their car in the Gaza Strip.

Their captivity lasted two weeks, making it the longest-running kidnapping involving journalists in Gaza. The men were kidnapped by a group called the Holy Jihad Brigades, an organization that was unheard of before the incident.

During the captivity Centanni and Wiig were both forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint and Wiig was taped giving an anti-Western speech. It is believed the speech was coerced by threat of force.

"It was a pretty tough two-week period there, and we're just thankful that it's over and he and Olaf were OK," said Marsha.

Mark and his siblings are originally from California but now are somewhat spread out across the country and, in Steve's case, overseas. But Marsha said Fox News kept in contact with the family members regularly, giving what updates were possible.

Without the help of family, friends, their church and the Morley community, Marsha said the ordeal would have been much harder.

Steve was actually released Sunday in Gaza, ending the anxiety for the family. Marsha said they had early word her brother-in-law would be released and that she and her husband were up at 5 a.m. waiting to hear about him.

She said the family didn't know until afterward that Steve's conversion to Islam was done at gunpoint.

Steve Centanni was no stranger to reporting in dangerous places when he was captured. The 60-year-old has been an international correspondent with Fox News since the network's founding in 1996. During those years he covered recent events in both Iraq -- where he was embedded with the Navy SEALS -- and Afghanistan and hostilities between India and Pakistan.

He's also covered the Pentagon, the U.S. Supreme Court, former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign and former President Bill Clinton during his 1996 campaign and second White House term. Centanni was also the Fox News correspondent charged with covering the efforts to rescue trapped West Virginia coal miners earlier this year.

Marsha said the family knew Steve was tough and adventuresome, but they couldn't help but worry about what might be happening to him. They wondered whether he had food and clean clothes and whether he had been separated from his fellow captive, Wiig.

Now the worrying is over. Marsha Centanni said the family will get together soon and celebrate Steve's return.

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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