Family racked by CIA cover-up

The agency lied about a 2001 plane downing in Peru that killed a woman and her daughter, a report says.

Former Poquoson resident Gloria Luttig learned this week that her daughter's and granddaughter's deaths were shrouded by a CIA cover-up.

"My daughter was murdered. My granddaughter was murdered," Luttig said during a phone interview from her home in Pace, Fla., outside Pensacola.

Veronica L. "Roni" Bowers, 35, was aboard a small floatplane April 20, 2001, flying with her husband and two children from Brazil to their houseboat on the Amazon River in Iquitos, Peru, where they lived and worked as missionaries.

A U.S. anti-drug surveillance plane alerted Peru's military that the Cessna 185 the Bowers were aboard was operating without a flight plan and in airspace frequented by narcotics traffickers — two allegations that are disputed.

A Peruvian warplane followed and fired shots at the Cessna.

"There was no communication. It happened very fast. The planes flew by first, did some swooping and then came in from behind and started shooting," Veronica's brother-in-law — Phil Bowers, a pilot who sat with his brother during a government debriefing on the situation — told The Associated Press in 2001.

One of the bullets hit Veronica in her back, zipped through her body and went into the skull of her infant daughter, Charity, who sat on her mother's lap. Both died.

The plane made a crash landing in the Amazon River in front of hundreds of witnesses in the Peruvian village of Huanta. The surviving passengers included the pilot, Kevin Donaldson of Morgantown, W.Va.; Veronica's husband, Jim Bowers; and their 6-year-old son, Cory, who clutched the plane's pontoons.

"One bullet that killed them both," Gloria Luttig said. "And my grandson, 6 years old, having to jump out of a plane into the Amazon with fire all around and piranhas. It should never had happened."

Luttig paused, crying on the phone Friday as she talked about her daughter's death just days before she and her husband, Garnett "John" Luttig, plan to drive to Porter, Texas, to see the older of their two surviving children, Garnett Jr. They have another son, Pat Luttig, who lives in Gloucester.

"And this is a hard time of year," Luttig said.

It got harder for the family when reporters in Michigan and Virginia started calling this week to ask whether she had heard about the CIA cover-up.

Excerpts of a Central Intelligence Agency internal investigation released Thursday said the agency tried to hide negligence in the case. The report said agency officials lied to Congress and withheld information from federal investigators — including senior Bush administration officials — looking to see whether a crime had been committed by intelligence agents.

Sections of the report were released by Michigan Rep. Peter Hoekstra, ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. Veronica and Jim Bowers lived in Hoekstra's district.

Hoekstra's office sent a letter to CIA Inspector General John Helgerson, asking to declassify other parts of the report, which was submitted in August.

The document was turned over to the Justice Department, which closed its investigation into the case in 2005 without any prosecutions. A CIA spokesman told the Los Angeles Times that the agency's internal review was "still open" and that no decisions had been made regarding disciplinary action.

As difficult as it is to talk about it, Veronica's family members want the public to know.

And, they said, they want justice.

"You shoot a woman and a baby in the back ... there's still more cover-up," said Veronica's brother, Garnett Luttig Jr., during a phone interview from his home outside Houston.

"Somebody knows, and somebody is accountable for that final action. ... We've always wanted answers, and we never got any."

Veronica Luttig graduated from Poquoson High School in 1982. She wanted to be a missionary even when she was a girl, her mother said. She was a counselor at a Christian summer camp, Camp Open Arms, on the Chickahominy River, where she was paid $10 a week.

After graduating from high school, Veronica went to Piedmont Bible College in Winston-Salem, N.C.

At college, Veronica wouldn't date men planning to be pastors, her mother said Friday. She wanted to be a missionary, so she dated only missionaries. That's how she met Jim Bowers, who had grown up in Brazil, where his parents were missionaries. They married Nov. 3, 1985.

The couple lived in Germany while Jim was in the Army. They then started doing missionary work with the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism. The organization operates a theological seminary, a camp, a center for pregnant women and schools in Lima, Peru, and other cities.

The couple tried to have children but weren't able because of infertility struggles. They adopted Cory in 1994 and Charity shortly after her birth Sept. 14, 2000.

Jim Bowers is in Africa doing missionary work, but he and Cory will get together with the Luttigs over the holidays, Gloria Luttig and Garnett Jr. said. He has since remarried and has two daughters.

After so much news media attention, he had to move on with his life, Gloria Luttig said. It's different for Gloria and her husband.

"It's hard for a mom and dad to get on with our lives when our only daughter was killed and especially in such a horrific way," Gloria said.

Shortly after Veronica's death, the Luttigs hired an attorney in Washington in an effort to get some answers from the federal government. Their investigation yielded a lot of information. They have a videotape of the plane being shot down. And they have an audio recording of the conversation that led to the plane being shot down.

"They were laughing and carrying on," Gloria said of the voices in the recording.

At this point, neither Gloria nor Veronica's older brother, Garnett Jr., expect to find out the whole truth.

However, they hope that someone will face criminal charges.

"For seven years, it's been brushed under the table," Garnett Jr. said.

"That's all we've ever wanted, is someone telling us who killed my sister and my niece. ...

"We've never been able to get anybody to admit, 'Hey, we made a mistake.' "

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