Thursday, June 26, 2008

Family: Army rules Cpl. Ciara Durkin death 'suicide'

(NECN) - The family of a Massachusetts Army National Guard corporal who died in mysterious circumstances last fall in Afghanistan now says they have been told her death was a suicide.

The family of 30-year-old Ciara Durkin released a short statement on the family website announcing that they had been told the Army's final report reached the suicide conclusion.

In the statement, the family says:

"The Durkin family has received the Army's final report into Ciara's death with their conclusion that she took her own life. We are very upset and saddened by their conclusion.

"We have borne an extraordinary amount of pain over the past nine months, compounded by a protracted and at times ambiguous investigation. We now need time and privacy to grieve, and let our Ciara finally rest in peace. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam."

Durkin's death had been classified as a non-combat fatality.

Durkin's family had challenged initial reports that Durkin had committed suicide, saying she seemed upbeat in conversations shortly before her death, but noting she had been “making enemies” for reasons she did not disclose in her job in a finance unit at Bagram Air Base.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

AF Colonel Philip Shue's death was ruled a murder/homicide

AF Colonel Philip Shue's death was ruled a murder/homicide yesterday by Judge Palmer, Kendall County Court, Boerne Texas.

Colonel Philip Shue grew up in Brookeville. Col Shue's ex-wife, Nancy Young Shue Timpson (daughter of Dr Young (Brookeville) took the Fifth.

Mrs Timpson is married to Lt Col Donald Timpson and they reside in Shalimar Florida.

Boerne Star News Articles by Anita Porterfield
6-18-08: Judge Rules Shue Death a Murder

6-15-08: Colonel Philip Shue's ex-wife takes the Fifth

6-11-08: Philip Shue Trial Draws National Media Attention (48 Hrs)

6-5-08: Philip Shue case reads like a novel

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Military Told Media and Family That It Was 'Friendly Fire' -- But It Was Murder

By Greg Mitchell
Published: June 20, 2008 10:25 PM ET updated Friday

NEW YORK For five years now, E&P has been chronicling the disturbing number of “noncombat” deaths in Iraq, often suicides, which usually come to light only due to the diligence of local newspapers.

As part of that effort, last August I briefly described yet another case, involving a 20-year-old Texas woman named Kamisha Block, who apparently was much loved in her Vidor hometown.

It was said to be death by “friendly fire,” which officially is fairly rare in Iraq, so I kept an eye on it for days, in case of an update. Many more nonhostile deaths arrived, and so I forgot about Kamisha.

Today, a reader sent me a link to a report on Vidor, Texas, TV station, which in turn led me to a news article in yesterday’s Beaumont Enterprise. Forget friendly fire. It turns out that Spc. Block was actually murdered, and the killer, another soldier, Staff Sgt. Brandon Norris, then turned the gun on himself.

And more: Her parents were misled at the start, and only after the mother noticed a suspicious head wound at the funeral (it turns out she was shot five times) and asked why, were they informed a few days later about the murder angle.

In fact, the Enterprise, too, was lied to by the Pentagon. Last August 21, the paper reported: “The U.S. Defense Department has confirmed two fatalities on Aug. 12 by friendly fire, but has not officially released names or the cause of death.”

That same article quoted her aunt, Kathy Byerly: "She was shot in the chest by friendly fire. They haven't told us anything else - the rest is under investigation. We just want to know the truth about it." Norris, too, was listed simply as a “noncombat” death.

The Enterprise in an editorial today charges: "There is no excuse for the U.S. Army's shabby treatment of Kamisha Block's parents and others who cared for her. Her commanders knew right away that she had been killed by a fellow soldier in Iraq, who had been harassing her. It was a standard murder-suicide.

Incredibly, the Army first told her parents that it was an accidental death due to friendly fire."

Even after the family was informed about the murder – the two soldiers had some sort of “relationship” in the past -- no other details were released, and it took six months, and the help of a local congressman, for the family to finally get the 1200-page military report.

It revealed that their daughter had been abused by the killer several times shortly before she died, and the Army seemingly did not do enough to protect her. The Blocks say that a military official told them that the chain of command should have taken the abuse more seriously and done more. Now they are asking why it took so long for the truth to emerge, and why no one has been punished for the failure to save their daughter.

"It's been hard to move on, because we feel justice has not been done. They failed her, and they certainly haven't treated us fairly," Jane Block told the Enterprise reporter, Kyle Paveto.

She said she wanted to publicize the high stress soldiers are under in Iraq. Paveto's article closes: “For now, they remember Kamisha Block as a hero who gave her life in a foreign land. And the family thinks of her as the Waffle House waitress who bought food for the downtrodden from her tip money…”

Jerry Block said he thought telling his daughter's story would help others to understand the stress soldiers are under, and he hoped it could help others in abusive situations.

After a second round of grieving, he and Jane Block began telling the story just this week. ‘I feel like we needed to try and get the truth out,’ she said. ‘We need to try to get on with the rest of our lives, but we know we never will.’"

The Enterprise in its editorial today concludes: "The facts of her death do not diminish Kamisha's Block's heroism. She risked death many times in Iraq on roads that could be rigged with the deadly IEDs - improvised explosive devices - that have claimed so many lives in Iraq. But she told her parents that she believed in the mission and was willing to take the risk.

"Two weeks ago, Defense Secretary Robert Gates did something unprecedented to the Air Force. He fired the top civilian and military commanders, the secretary of the Air Force and a four-star general, for two mistakes involving nuclear weapons. If someone in the Army were fired or demoted for trying to lie to Kamisha Block's parents, blunders like this might not happen."

*Greg Mitchell's new book has several chapters on nomcombat deaths in Iraq. It is titled, So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq.

Greg Mitchell ( is editor.

Mother wants answers in soldier’s death Son had ‘hard life’ growing up in Hawaii

By Stephen Dick

Eugene D.M. Kanakaole was only in Iraq for a month when he was found dead June 11. According to his mother, Kristine Rene Blades, who lived for a time in Anderson, the cause of death was a single gun shot wound to the head. The Department of Defense is calling the death “non-combat.”

“I don’t believe my son killed himself,” Blades said.

Kanakaole, 19, was part of the 87th Engineer Company, 8th Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade from Fort Hood, Texas.

She added that the Department of Defense is investigating her son’s death. “I don’t want it swept under the rug,” she said.

The day after Kanakaole died, Blades said she received a visit from her other son, David, his father and an uncle who told her of Eugene’s death. Her reaction to the news “was not good.”

David, she said, is a Marine who hasn’t been sent to Iraq, but she wonders if he will go.

Blades, who goes by Rene, lives in Honolulu, Hawaii, where she manages a Shell station. She hadn’t seen Eugene since he was little. There were problems for Blades, she said, when Eugene was born and, as a result, he moved around to different foster homes.

Though born in Honolulu, on the island of Oahu, Kanakaole spent most his early years on the island of Maui where he graduated from Maui High School in 2007. While in high school, according to the Honolulu Advertiser, he played football and was on the track team. He started out pole vaulting and switched to shot put, according to his mother.

The Advertiser wrote that three soldiers from Maui have died in Iraq.

“He had a hard life,” Blades sighed. She had no contact with him, but when he turned 18, she heard from him and he said they’d get together. Before she knew it, though, he was in the Army and gone, and she never got to see him.

Blades, 44, said a girlfriend was able to access Kanakaole’s MySpace page.

“He was so proud of being in the Army,” Blades said. “I’ll do whatever I can to find out what happened.”

Kanakaole’s sister, Charissa, told KITV, an ABC affiliate in Honolulu, “(Eugene) was very proud of serving in the Army — serving his country. He was very quiet, but he seemed very strong, quiet, but strong,” she said.

Charissa, who spent five years in the Air Force, told the TV station that she received news of Kanakaole’s death on his MySpace page.

Son had ‘hard life’ growing up in Hawaii

By Stephen Dick

Blades’ father, William Blades, lives in Anderson. He said he has been talking to his daughter off and on since Eugene’s death.

William Blades was born and raised in Anderson. He left for the Army after graduation in 1959 and met his wife, Maxine, who was from Hawaii, in Fort Monmouth, N.J. After the Army the couple ended up in Anderson where William took a job with General Motors. “I couldn’t cut it,” he said.

In 1968, they headed to Hawaii and he worked for 20 years as a Honolulu police officer. He moved back to Anderson in 1998 to care for his ailing mother. He and Maxine divorced. Their kids, including Rene, stayed in Hawaii.

Rene Blades said she hasn’t been back to Anderson since 1976.

William Blades said he probably won’t be going to Hawaii for the funeral, which is pending. Rene said Eugene’s body has been flown back to the Dover, Del., Air Base where all who die on active duty are taken.

Terry Barquez, Rene’s sister, lives in Newman, Calif., and remembers Eugene when he was very young.

“I knew him as a baby,” she said. She and Rene used to be close, but Terry has lived in Newman for 15 years and hasn’t been back to Hawaii in five years.

“He was finally getting on his own,” Barquez said of Eugene. “It’s sad to find out he died so young and so early.”

She knows Rene wants to find out what happened.

“My sister wants closure.”

“No one knows how he died,” said Rene. “My concern is how my son died. My concern is what is going on over there.”

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Parents of soldier Army says was murdered want to know why abuse wasn't taken more seriously


By: KYLE PEVETO , The Enterprise

Jerry and Jane Block repeat it over and over: The U.S. Army failed their daughter.After Kamisha Block, 20, of Vidor died last August in Iraq, her family was told she was a victim of friendly fire, shot in the chest in a non-combat incident.

A few days after the Army notified the family, they told the Blocks some of the truth - Spc. Block had been murdered.

It took the family another six months to find out the details of her slaying, including the real name of the man who shot her."It's been hard to move on, because we feel justice has not been done. They failed her, and they certainly haven't treated us fairly," Jane Block said from her Vidor home.

Kamisha Block joined the Army not long after graduating from Vidor High School in 2005. She trained as a military police officer with the 89th Military Police Battalion from Fort Hood, according to Army documents.

She spent a year in Korea, and then returned for a few months to Fort Hood before she left for Iraq in 2007. While in Texas she began a relationship with Staff Sgt. Brandon Norris, her parents said, a man in the same battalion.

Although the Blocks never believed Norris and Kamisha Block had a serious relationship, Norris became attached and possessive of her, Army investigators told the family.

Before they left Fort Hood for Iraq, Norris physically assaulted Kamisha Block, her family learned through later Army reports. He was disciplined and received counseling, but he did not lose his jealous nature.

Where they were stationed near Baghdad in Camp Liberty, Kamisha Block drove other soldiers and feared the improvised explosive devices along the roadway the most. She told her mother that Iraq was hot, dirty and miserable.

"She said, 'Mom, somebody has to do it,' " Jane Block said. "She wanted to help her country, and she really believed in what she was doing."

In Iraq, Norris assaulted her again, and again Kamisha Block kept it from her family. Witnesses to the assault reported it to officials, and they moved him farther from her, but still only about five minutes away from Kamisha Block's barracks.

Three months into their tour in Iraq and a little more than a week before her death, Norris hurt Kamisha Block again, military investigators said. Shortly after that incident, she left on a week-long assignment.

Her roommate said when she returned, Kamisha Block walked into her room, dropped her bags and turned on her computer. Then, Norris walked in and told the roommate to leave.

The roommate obeyed, then heard a gunshot and opened the door to check. Norris pointed the gun at her, so the roommate ran for help.

According to the Army, Norris shot Kamisha Block five times and then turned the gun on himself.

The Blocks were told their daughter had been shot in the chest, but before the funeral, Jane noticed a wound to Kamisha's head. She began making calls, and Army investigators told her Kamisha Block had been murdered by a man named Paul Brandon. Jane Block never had heard the name, but it tugged at her mind.

Jane Block made calls for months and enlisted the aid of Congressman Kevin Brady's staffers, who made pleas on her behalf and assisted her in her search for answers.After six months, the Army's criminal investigators produced a 1,200-page copy of Kamisha Block's death investigation. They had blacked out much of the information, but in February the Blocks finally learned the truth. The full name of their daughter's killer was Paul Brandon Norris.

An Army investigator went through the document with them and admitted that the chain of command, the officers above Kamisha Block and Norris, had made a mistake by not taking the physical abuse more seriously. But other than that visit, Jane Block said no one from the Army has apologized for its handling of the investigation.

Now the Blocks want justice. Jane and Jerry Block hope someone will be disciplined for the mistake that led to Kamisha Block's death. They are actively lobbying the Army, but they have not contacted an attorney. Brady's office is helping the family seek answers, Jane Block said."I feel like I have the right to that," she said. "She was my daughter. Serving my country."

For now, they remember Kamisha Block as a hero who gave her life in a foreign land. And the family thinks of her as the Waffle House waitress who bought food for the downtrodden from her tip money."This is what hurts, for her to be so calm and quiet, and for it to happen this way," said Wayne Stuckey, Kamisha Block's uncle who lives next door to the home where she grew up.

Jerry Block said he thought telling his daughter's story would help others to understand the stress soldiers are under, and he hoped it could help others in abusive situations. After a second round of grieving, he and Jane Block began telling the story just this week."I feel like we needed to try and get the truth out," she said. "We need to try to get on with the rest of our lives, but we know we never will."

©The Beaumont Enterprise 2008

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fort Bragg soldier found dead identified

Thursday, June 12, 2008 9:22 AM

FORT BRAGG -- The Army says it is investigating the death of a Green Beret candidate whose body was discovered in a Fort Bragg training area after he was reported missing.

The Army Special Operations Command said in a statement released Thursday that the soldier was Pfc. Norman Michael Murburg III of Gainesville, Fla. He was assigned to the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg and was taking part in Special Forces training.

Murburg was missing after a 10-hour land navigation exercise ended at 11 a.m. Monday in the Hoffman Training Area, about 50 miles west of the post. About 475 soldiers searched for him until his body was found about 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Officials said they received no signal from the emergency tracking device that he was issued and his flares were not used.

(Copyright ©2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Family remembers Jason Dene, a Vermont soldier who died in Iraq

Friday June 6, 2008
Nina Keck
Rutland, VT

(Host) U.S. military officials say the noncombat death of Sergeant First Class Jason Dene is still under investigation.

Dene, who spent much of his childhood in Rutland and Castleton, was the nephew of actress and outspoken war critic Mia Farrow and the grandson of 1930s film star Maureen O'Sullivan.
Dene had three children and was just weeks from finishing his second tour in Iraq when he died May 25th.

VPR's Nina Keck has more.

(Keck) All the Defense Department will say is that Dene died in Baghdad from injuries suffered in a non combat related incident. His father, Terry Deane, says he was told his son died in his sleep.

He says Jason suffered from severe sleep apnea - a common disorder in which a person has one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths during sleep. Just a few months ago, Terry Deane says, his son flew back to the United States for surgery to correct the problem.

(Terry Deane) "But he right away was the first to say, `I want to go back.' Nobody sent him back. I talked to him on the phone once or twice a week from Iraq and he never, ever complained. `How ya' feeling?' `Fine, I wish I had more to do.'"

(Keck) Officials at the Defense Department say toxicology results from Dene's autopsy should be finished within days. Whether or not the autopsy report will be made public is up to the family.

Terry Deane says his son's remains are still being held by the military, so funeral plans are on hold. Talking from his home in Akron, Ohio, Deane says his son wanted to be a soldier ever since he was a child and spent nearly 20 years serving in places like Serbia, Bosnia, Haiti and Korea.

(Terry Deane) "Jason would not have wanted to die like he did. He would have wanted to die on top of that Humvee with the machine gun in his hands or jumping out of a plane. And it's ironic that he died lying in his bed, from what, we don't know. And that's the truth, they don't know what it is. They've done autopsies and they can't figure out what it is that killed him.''

(Keck) Patrick Farrow, Jason's uncle and a well-known sculptor who lives in Castleton, has been a vocal critic of the war and wants more answers.

(Patrick Farrow) "If there's not going to be a private, outside-of-the-military investigation, I don't trust a word out of their mouths. They have lied to us all along, and I don't see why they wouldn't lie if they found out something that was embarrassing to them." (Keck) Farrow says he contacted Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to look into the matter, but backed off when Jason's parents asked him to stop. Farrow says the entire war in Iraq has been overly sanitized by the administration and the media and he says too many non combatant deaths are swept under the rug. He says he feels like he has to speak out not only for his nephew, but for all the other soldiers who've been hurt by the war. Terry Deane says he understands Farrow's anger, but doesn't want his son to become a symbol for the anti war movement.

(Terry Deane) "I don't want an investigation under the name of Jason Dene because he's a high profile young man because of his aunt and his grandmother and everything else. It's jut not fair to Jason. Jason wouldn't want to be remembered like that. He would have wanted to be remembered as a warrior, a soldier. And unfortunately he's dead."

(Keck) Tisa Farrow, Jason Dene's mother, feels the military has been honest with her family. But she admits it's frustrating knowing that her son and the other soldiers in his unit had to stay in Iraq an extra three months because of a shortage of troops. But for that, she says and pauses. Still, she says, her son understood the risks.

(Tisa Farrow) "He had a deep deep love of his family and he was a really, really intelligent man. And everything he did in the military- which he loved - he thought about very seriously. So, for him to serve over there was something he felt noble about. I didn't agree with it. But that's the way - our family is, very political. But I respected him a great deal for serving his country the way he did."

(Keck) Jason Dean had been scheduled to come home from Iraq to his wife Judith and three children later this month.

For VPR News, I'm Nina Keck.

© Copyright 2008, VPR This is the online edition of VPR News. Text versions of VPR news stories may be updated and they may vary slightly from the broadcast version

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Family asks Army to reopen pfc. suicide case

04 Jun 2008, 05:29 AM

The father of the first female soldier from Missouri to die in Iraq wants Congress to force the Army to reopen its investigation into her death.

John Johnson, father of LaVena Johnson, said Tuesday that he met in April with Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, as well as others.

The Johnsons and their supporters collected signatures for petitions asking the House and Senate Armed Services committees to direct the Army to revisit the investigation of Johnson’s death. “I could let it go, but then, someone will get away with murder,” John Johnson of Florissant told reporters Tuesday.

Army Pfc. LaVena Johnson was found dead July 19, 2005, in a small contractor’s tent in Balad, Iraq, after only eight weeks in the country. Army investigators and coroners ruled she had shot herself in the mouth with an M-16 rifle.

Johnson contends his daughter was attacked, raped and had her body dumped in the tent, where a fire was started in hopes of destroying her remains.The House Armed Services Committee is looking into the case, but has not decided whether to hold a formal investigation, said spokeswoman Lara Battles.

A spokeswoman for the Senate Armed Services Committee said it was unaware of the case.

LaVena Johnson died days shy of her 20th birthday. She graduated from Hazelwood Central High School in 2004, where she was an honor student, played the violin, and developed a social conscience. Her family has described her as upbeat and not suicidal.

Christopher Grey, spokesman for the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command in Fort Belvoir, Va., said the Army stands by the command’s finding that Johnson’s gunshot was self-inflicted. “We conducted a very thorough investigation that’s documented in the case file,” he said Tuesday. “It’s a very unfortunate, tragic case, and I completely understand the feelings of the grieving family.”

He said the command “stands ready to reopen any investigation” if someone presents new, credible evidence.

Johnson said he presented Skelton and others the names of nine other military women who were raped or murdered while in the service. He said he became aware of their stories as he investigated his daughter’s.

He said there’s a pattern, and “whoever is behind this must have significant rank or prestige.” He said color photographs, documents and autopsy reports he’s obtained from Army investigators indicate his daughter was scratched, bruised and burned, and that her genital area showed evidence of lye “to destroy DNA evidence.”

An autopsy performed at Dover Air Force Base concluded that she died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The St. Louis medical examiner reached the same conclusion after Johnson had his daughter’s body exhumed for a second autopsy.

The Pentagon reported in March that men and women in uniform reported 2,688 sexual assaults last year. That compares to 2,947 reported the year before and 2,400 in 2005.

Michael McPhearson, executive director of the national Veterans for Peace, based in St. Louis, said Tuesday there’s an “epidemic of sexual abuse” in the military.“ In order to ensure our wives, daughters and aunts are safe, men have to hold men accountable for this behavior,” said McPhearson, who served in the first Gulf War.

“Women have to be advocates for themselves, but men have to say we can’t allow this.

--submitted by Leonard Wahl