The last flight with Maj. Karl Hoerig

I sat in Judge Andrew Logan’s courtroom as Claudia Hoerig received her sentence of 28 years to life. I was overwhelmed with emotion. That February day meant so much to us all. The outcome so many hoped for now is written in stone. Justice prevailed, but the only ‘life sentence’ I observed that day was of my friend Karl Hoerig.

Karl would never see his children again, hold his grandchildren or enjoy a holiday with family and friends. Karl will never give the gift of laughter through wit or wisdom. Claudia selfishly took all that, denying us the gift of Karl in our lives.

The sordid account Claudia attempted to portray of our friend during the trial was difficult to endure, and only served to hurt Karl’s family and friends. Her testimony was wild rambling of selfish, dishonest and unconnected events, never demonstrating any remorse. She’ll have nearly 30 years to think about her actions.

I served with Karl at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station. We flew many missions together as C-130 pilots. He was not only a good and well-respected pilot, he was a mentor. We shared close friends outside the base and often spent time together. Karl served our nation honorably with more than 400 combat hours flying. Serving in both the Air Force and Army National Guard, Karl had a special appreciation for military. It is incomprehensible to all ‘brothers in arms’ that a patriot who loved his country, put his life on the line in defense of it, would come home to be gunned down in cold-blood by someone who supposedly loved him. Karl would’ve helped anyone, often staying late in the squadron to assist with special projects or pilots needing extra instruction. He was fun to be around and loved his job. He had an infectious smile and a contagious laugh.

When Karl didn’t show up for a training sortie, the airmen in his unit knew something was wrong; he always showed up for duty. Karl was found dead, and Claudia fled to Brazil. A decade-long journey to bring her home began that day. Karl, his friends and family deserved justice, and Brazil must return Claudia.

During Karl’s funeral, the 910thAirlift Wing gave a special send-off with full military honors. A formation of airmen by his grave and the ever-humbling Missing-Man Formation of C-130s flew over to say goodbye as we laid him to rest. I stood in formation with Karl’s closest friends.

After my election to Congress, Karl’s father, Ed, asked me to do everything I could to bring Claudia home. Ed wanted to ask her one question: ‘How could you do this to someone who only ever wanted to help others?’ In Washington, I joined U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan who already had written letters to the U.S. Secretary of State, U.S. Attorney General and Brazilian officials, including the foreign minister. June 11, 2009, we introduced a U.S. House Resolution admonishing Brazil for harboring a known U.S. fugitive. It later passed as an amendment to the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, and Brazil was on notice. Brazil doesn’t permit extradition of its citizens to any country with the death penalty. Brazil did nothing to return Claudia until action at the highest levels of our government prompted a response.

In 2013 Ryan passed an amendment to a Homeland Security bill banning processing of visas for Brazilian citizens until Claudia’s return. The legislation spooked Brazil. Two months later Brazil revoked Claudia’s citizenship and arrested her. The efforts of Ryan, Prosecutor Dennis Watkins and Karl’s family, who never gave up hope, were finally in motion. The Brazilian Supreme Court voted to extradite her, but many still doubted Brazil’s intention.

In January 2018, following a speech about Karl in the Ohio House of Representatives, I ignored calls from an unknown number. On the fourth call I answered. U.S. Marshal Pete Elliot, who kept me informed of the government’s efforts, was on the line. He said, “John we got her.”

“You got who Pete?”

“We got Claudia!”

“Where do you have her?”

“The Trumbull County jail.”

I couldn’t believe it. Ed finally could ask his question, and we could begin the final chapter.

Ed saw his daughter-in-law in court. It was difficult watching his raw emotion as he described to reporters the difficulty of forgiving her. To hear him say the only person who would quickly forgive Claudia was Karl, and he isn’t coming back, will stay with me.

In the courtroom, I recalled my last flight with Karl on a beautiful evening in Youngstown, with the sun setting. We practiced flight maneuvers into the Youngstown airport. We boasted about our landings and challenged each other, as pilots do, to ‘grease’ the next one. As we began our high-altitude descent from the east into the setting sun, Karl repeated a sentence he often said; it is etched on his tombstone.

“When I take my final flight west into the setting sun and look back over my shoulders, I hope the people who knew me are glad they did.”

Well buddy, we are glad to have known you. Rest in Peace until we can fly again.

Lt. Col. John Boccieri is a C-130 pilot at the Youngstown Air Force Reserve Base. He flew with his friend Maj. Karl Hoerig.