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Remembering The Missing In Kashmir

It’s been 538 days since militants snatched Spokane psychologist Donald Hutchings from his hiking camp in the Himalayan foothills.

His wife, Jane Schelly, held a news conference Friday to remind a world distracted by the latest hostage crisis in Peru that he and three of his companions are still missing in the mountains of Kashmir.

“I want to make sure Don is not forgotten,” Schelly said in the living room of the couple’s Spokane Valley home. “We still have (a hostage crisis) in Kashmir that’s not resolved.”

Hutchings, 43, and three other men were kidnapped in July 1995 while hiking in Jammu-Kashmir, a mountainous state in northern India.

A shadowy group called Al Faran claimed responsibility for the abductions. The guerrillas offered to exchange the hostages for rebels being held in Indian jails, but no bargain was struck.

Earlier this month, the Kashmiri government put up a $28,500 reward for information about the location and health of the hostages.

The U.S. government offered a $2 million reward in November.

Schelly, 41, traveled to India and Pakistan to help set up the U.S. reward program. The six-week trip was bittersweet, she said.

While in Kashmir, she and relatives of other hostages traveled to the spot where the body of one murdered captive was found last year.

Schelly said she looked around at the surrounding mountains and saw the pass the guerrillas must have used to escape with her husband.

“It put you so close to them,” she said. “We were so close to them, yet so far away.”

The group came home with no new clues about the whereabouts of their loved ones.

“We were hoping so badly that something would come out on this trip, but nothing, nothing has,” said Schelly, who was gone from mid-October until late November.

The uncertainty is worse during the holidays, said Schelly, who still has the unopened Christmas presents she bought for her husband last year.

The elementary school physical education teacher said she will continue working next year to find out the fate of her husband.

She hopes the U.S. government will lean on India and Pakistan in 1997 to convince them to make finding the hostages a priority.

Washington senators Patty Murray and Slade Gorton, along with Rep. George Nethercutt, have drafted a letter to India and Pakistan asking for further cooperation.

Schelly asked that residents write their congressmen and senators and ask them to sign the letter, too.

“Until we have absolute proof, we’ll continue to search for them. We’ll continue to seek answers,” Schelly said. “Somebody knows something.”

, DataTimes



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