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A headshot of Capt. Paul Lorence dressed in his Air Force Uniform with an American flag in the background.Image Courtesy Lorence FamilyA Search for Answers

As they marked a somber anniversary, the family of an SFSU graduate shot down over Libya in 1986 vowed to unravel the mystery behind Air Force Capt. Paul Lorence's disappearance.

"We want information. Are Paul's remains in Libya? Yes or no?" says Jeff Kruger, Lorence's stepbrother.

April 15 marked 20 years since the F-111F carrying Lorence and Maj. Fernando Ribas-Dominicci was shot down during an air raid on Tripoli. A few weeks after the plane went down, the body of Ribas-Dominicci, the pilot, washed ashore on a beach west of Tripoli. Three years later, Libya returned the body to U.S. custody. Lorence, the weapon systems officer, is also presumed dead but his family still awaits word from Libya on the fate of his remains.

In 1989, Libya identified the body that it returned to the United States as that of Lorence rather than Ribas-Dominicci. Around that time, Libyan television aired film of a helmet that purportedly washed ashore west of Tripoli. The helmet had "Lorence" stenciled on the back.

A government investigation concluded that Ribas-Dominicci and Lorence probably escaped their disabled aircraft in an ejection pod and that Ribas-Dominicci likely drowned either inside the pod or at sea. Lorence's remains "may be in the pod, washed out to sea, or washed into one of the many caves that are found along that portion of the Libyan Coast," according to an analyst's report issued by the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office.

Kruger isn't so sure. He says the only logical explanation for the mix-up in bodies is that the Libyans recovered Lorence's body as well as Ribas-Dominicci's. "How could you misidentify a body that has dog tags and a serviceman's name imprinted on a uniform?" asks Kruger, a private investigator in Contra Costa County.

He plans to personally appeal to the Libyan government to disclose the full details of the case as a humanitarian gesture.

Lorence graduated summa cum laude in history in 1980. Professor Jerry Combs remembers Lorence as an exceptional student who was a pleasure to have in his classroom. "Paul was a very gentle, very kind person," Combs says.

SFSU has not forgotten Lorence's record of scholarship and the sacrifice he made for his country. Each year, the Paul Lorence Undergraduate Scholarship in History awards $2,000 to one student.

For details:

-- Anne Burke


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