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Army disputes account of local soldier's injury

June 29, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

U.S. Army officials are disputing a published report that a Clear Spring-area soldier was wounded in Iraq in April when a land mine detonated 10 feet away from her.

The story first was published in the May 1 editions of The Morning Herald and The Daily Mail based on an interview of Pvt. Amy Shirk by Herald-Mail reporter Laura Ernde. Information in that story was repeated in a May 22 story about a car accident in which Shirk was involved.

The story "flies in the face of the soldiers currently serving in Iraq who do face combat, danger, and risk their lives," wrote Capt. Timothy A. Cary, commander of the 811th Ordnance Co., with which Shirk served. "Those soldiers need their stories told and told in a truthful way."

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Shirk, who lives on National Pike west of Hagerstown, tore ligaments in her leg while serving in Iraq and was sent home early.

On April 30, two days after Shirk got home, Ernde interviewed her about her experience. Ernde reported that Shirk, 23, said she was wounded when a land mine exploded 10 feet away, sending her flying backward.

The story made its way to Shirk's detachment in Greencastle, Pa., then to her unit in Iraq, where military officials said it wasn't true. In the first week of June, more than a month after the story ran, The Herald-Mail received e-mails and letters from four military officials asking for a retraction.

In e-mail interviews, several military officials told The Herald-Mail that Shirk was injured when her convoy stopped for a break in the Iraqi desert and she stepped awkwardly along the side of the road.

During a follow-up interview with another Herald-Mail reporter, Shirk acknowledged that account. She said she was injured when she twisted her foot hurrying back to her truck, not by a land mine explosion.

Shirk said she never claimed to be near a land mine that exploded.

Shirk said that, during the interview with Ernde, she mentioned being in a hospital near another soldier who stepped on a land mine.

"The reporter took it out of context, what I said ...," Shirk said. "It just got twisted."

The newspaper stands by its original story as an accurate representation of what Shirk said, Executive Editor Terry Headlee said.

Not only did Shirk tell that story to Ernde, but she was present when Ernde retold the story to Herald-Mail photographer Joe Crocetta, who arrived at the Shirk home during the interview, Headlee said. Shirk did not correct Ernde's recounting of her story to the photographer, he said.

In one of three subsequent interviews with The Herald-Mail after the Army disputed the circumstances of her injury, Shirk said she intended to call the newspaper to correct the initial story but did not do so.

"I just didn't know who to call," she said.

On Wednesday, Shirk cut short a final phone interview with The Herald-Mail and said she didn't want to talk about the situation anymore. She gave the newspaper a written statement that said, "Due to a misinterpretation, a miscommunication and vague information we received, we regret any misunderstanding that was printed by your paper concerning Army Pvt. Amy Shirk."

It was signed, "The Shirk Family."

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