Rockville family calls Bergdahl-Taliban trade 'bittersweet'
ROCKVILLE, Md. (WJLA) - News of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's release is bittersweet for a Rockville family, whose loved one continues to be held hostage in Pakistan.
On August 13, 2011, al-Qaeda operatives kidnapped Warren Weinstein, a 72-year-old contractor working in Lahore, a city of seven million along the Pakistani-Indian boarder.
In the nearly three years since, Weinstein's family has prayed and mourned for his release in private, but to no avail. They're now speaking publicly in hopes of drawing renewed attention to their predicament.
"Every celebration we have, has a sadness to it. Every milestone we reach is a milestone without him," Weinstein's wife Elaine remarked as tears coated her eyes. "Even the baby [six-year-old grandson] is aware of this. You know, 'where is my grandpa?' It's terrible."
Born in Brooklyn during the 1940s, Weinstein met his wife in 1967 while teaching political science at the City College of New York. The two wed one year later. They had their two daughters, Jennifer and Alisa, in 1971 and 1973 respectively.
In 1977, the budding family of four moved to the Washington, D.C. area --- Weinstein a consultant, his wife a stay-at-home mom.
The 1980s and 90s transported Weinstein across most of European, African and Latin America. "He poured his heart and soul into his work," wife Elaine recalled.
"He was in an earthquake in Central America, and in a coup in the Central African Republic," Elaine added. "He took precautions, but never lived in fear."
In 2004, Weinstein moved to Pakistan, working as a director for J.E. Austin Associates, an Arlington, Va. based governmental development and consulting firm.
Weinstein would return for extended vacations, family events such as birthdays and anniversaries, and the holidays. While the distance was hard, technology in the 21st century made it much more tolerable.
"We'd talk three to four times a day on Skype or Vonage," Elaine commented. "He'd call the kids, and grandkids multiple times a week too. Despite being a world traveler, he was very much a family man."
So naturally. when the phone rang on that warm August night in 2011, Elaine assumed it was her husband. Instead, it was his bossing. The message: "Warren has been kidnapped."
"I couldn't believe it. Just total shock," Elaine recalled.
In the three years since, Weinstein's captors have released three videos online. The most recent clip, 13 minutes in length, was published on Christmas Day 2013. Weinstein, who'd always been a clean-shaven man, wore a long gray beard, black knit cap, and gray sweatsuit. The man who loved to cook peanut chicken in the kitchen, and pull weeds in the garden, addressed President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, the American media, and his own family.
"That's not my husband, that's a shell of a man," Elaine remarked. "His eyes are empty, he's not moving. I can't watch it. It hurts too much to know that he might be in pain."
High among his family's lengthy list of concerns, Weinstein's health. The gregarious family man, who will turn 73 on July 3, suffers from a heart condition, severe asthma, and high blood pressure. His family believes his kidnappers are not feeding him properly, or providing him with his required cardiovascular medication.
"The worst part is the waiting. Not knowing what's going on, what anybody is doing, what he's doing, how his health is, how his spirits are, how he's holding up," Elaine stated. "It's painful, everyday."
Elaine was riding with a friend when she received a text message informing her about Sgt. Bergdahl's release from Afghanistan. Her daughter Jennifer learned the news while at a birthday party.
"You know, it's a double-edged sword. You're very excited for somebody, but on the other hand you're very disappointed," Jennifer Coakley stated. "But I know he's coming home. I feel it. It's just a matter of when."
"I'm elated for them [Bergdahl family], but was extremely deflated when I heard the news because I was hoping something like that would happen to my husband," Elaine added.
For now, two yellow ribbons adorn a large maple tree in the Weinstein's front yard. The bright color is symbolic for missing people, a connection that dates back to the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979.
"I just want people to know he [Weinstein] was over there doing good work, and he doesn't deserve this. He's been all over the world helping people. And this is what he gets in return? It's just unfair," Elaine concluded with a face worn with despair.
To this day it's unclear why al-Qaeda targeted Weinstein. He is the only U.S. citizen currently being held by the international terrorist syndicate.