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

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