A 21-year-old army intelligence specialist from Laguna Niguel is missing from a U.S. military base in West Germany, and Army officials said today they are concerned that he may have defected to East Germany.
The mother of Army Spec. 4 Michael A. Peri spoke briefly to reporters at the family's sprawling hilltop home in an exclusive subdivision in Orange County.
"My son is missing," said a distraught Winnie Peri. "That's all we know. We're just praying to God that Michael's safe."
Retreating inside, she pleaded through an intercom, "Please, please be sympathetic. We have a missing son."
Her husband, Fred R. Peri, arrived home early this afternoon from his job as contract administrator at Fluor Daniels Corp. in Irvine. "All I know is my son is missing," he said tersely.
Michael Peri, who was trained to analyze electronic warfare signals such as radar, was reported missing from the 11th Calvary headquarters in Fulda, West Germany, on Feb. 21, according to Maj. Kathy Wood, a Pentagon spokeswoman.
A military vehicle that he had checked out was found two days later about 30 miles northeast of Fulda near the village of Obersuhl, just a mile from East Germany, Wood said.
A laptop computer is also missing and believed taken by Peri, who would have had access at a minimum to information with a security classification of "secret," she said.
Exemplary Military Record
The soldier had an exemplary military record and was nominated twice for best soldier in his unit, Wood said. An investigation is under way to determine what information he may have worked with and the significance of the material for East Germany.
In addition, the Army has requested assistance from West German authorities in the search for Michael Peri. While she acknowledged concern that he may have defected, Wood said there is still no proof.
"We have no evidence at this point that proves he is anything but missing," Wood said.
Lt. Col. Jake Dye, an Army spokesman in Fulda, was quoted in today's Stars and Stripes, the armed forces newspaper, as saying, "We still can't confirm that he's defected, but the circumstances of that vehicle being found so close to the border are definitely suspicious."
Dye described Peri as "a normal kid."
"No deep romantic involvement with anybody that we know of. Friends are just as surprised as his parents and the unit commander," he said.
Peri grew up in La Habra, where his family lived on Exeter Drive from 1980 to last September when they moved to a $400,000 home in the Bear Brand Ranch subdivision in Laguna Niguel.
He studied to be an intelligence officer in an 18-week course at Ft. Devens, Mass., base spokesman Phil Morris confirmed today. Intelligence candidates, who are selected on the basis of entrance test scores and personal and criminal background checks, receive a security clearance of "secret."
Staff writer Bob Schwartz contributed to this story.