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Mom, Hometown Mourn Mutilated Soldier

The mother of a 23-year-old soldier whose body was found mutilated in Iraq sobbed with her cheek against his sealed, flag-shrouded coffin Tuesday, looking at the crucifix above it and asking repeatedly in Spanish, "Why? ... Why my son?"

Pfc. Kristian Menchaca was one of two soldiers whose booby-trapped remains were found June 19, three days after they went missing following an insurgent attack. He was to be buried Wednesday.

"You were so young," said Maria Vasquez, a 50-year-old Mexican immigrant. "My little boy."

The public was allowed to pay respects Tuesday. Uniformed veterans, public officials and others streamed into the convention center where the coffin was displayed.

The military said explosive experts had to dismantle three roadside bombs before reaching the bodies of Menchaca and Pfc. Thomas Tucker about 12 miles south of Baghdad. A U.S. military officer said last week one and possibly both soldiers had been tortured and beheaded.

The Army said Menchaca, Tucker, and Spc. David J. Babineau were left behind while other vehicles in their patrol moved out of sight to inspect traffic. Babineau was killed as his comrades were abducted.

Menchaca's mother has declined to hear the Army's updates on exactly how her son died, said Rachel Ayala, a family spokeswoman.

"She doesn't want to know," Ayala said.

Juan Vasquez Jr., Menchaca's cousin, said it was too soon for the family to do anything but mourn.

But he said his cousin, a quiet young man who during his May visit home joked about being an "American hero," would be overwhelmed to see roads lined in American flags for him and elected officials lining up to tell his mother he was just that.

"It would blow his mind," he said.