Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Sgt. Benjamin Thomas Griego
As we heard of our son’s death:
Our 26 year old son, Sgt. Benjamin Thomas Griego, was found dead in Army housing at White Sands Missile Range on July 13, 2007. He was serving our country as Cadre, on his second term enlistment, representing the New Mexico Army National Guard. His duty involved training military branches of service for transition to a Warrior Transition course previously transferred to Dona Ana Range from Ft. Knox, Kentucky.
When we first heard of our son’s death, there was no official report released from the Army National Guard to his wife or to us, his parents. The information we received early that morning on July 13th, was that our son had died. The information was received from the public through their phone calls and visits of sympathy and condolences.
As we tried to make sense of this, we brushed it off as gossip since the rumor had come from a Wal-Mart employee. Later, we learned that it had been channeled down from a sergeant on post at White Sands Missile Range to a family member employed at the local Wal-Mart in Clovis, NM. That in itself was devastating and shocking to find this out in this manner. We were on the phone early that morning frantically trying to make contact with someone from the White Sands Missile Range and the Army National Guard in Santa Fe, NM who would put these rumors to rest. But to my disbelief, we were notified hours later that the worst had turned out to be true, our beloved son was gone.
Jeronimo, Ben’s father, was the last person to speak to Ben just hours before his death. He had made his father promise that he would call him while he was on the range the next day. We had made plans with Ben to pick up his father at the airport in El Paso, TX Monday, July 16th after duty. His itemized phone statement showed two phone calls were made to housing on base that evening. We believe that he was trying to make accommodations for his father’s visit.
Ben was 26 years old, and the youngest of my three sons. He kept close contact with us. We spoke to him every day, we knew our son, and nothing was out of the ordinary the day prior. Everything was going well for him, except for altercations he had been having with three unit members who had recently returned from Iraq. A DVD was given to us by his commander on the night of the Rosary, July 19th , which clearly demonstrates that problems existed.
My son presented a formal class on “Integrity”, ordered by the commander. The commander, first sergeant, and unit members were present. The class was recorded on a DVD. Some of the unit members admitted to "bum rushing" Ben before he presented the class. On the same DVD, a death threat was made. This was three weeks prior to his death. The unit members admitted to bum rushing him and the commanding officer, the highest commanding officer present, asked if it was “round two". She was well aware what was going on.
Criminal Investigation Division
Our experience with the CID is that they were quick to close his case, claiming self-infliction and filling in the blanks without thoroughly investigating claims. We, his family, had real concerns and questions and presented concrete evidence. The CID Senior Agent from El Paso, Texas seemed too bothered to return phone calls and delayed and rescheduled meeting after meeting. That went on for months. The CID Agent scheduled a meeting in November, 2007 and finally met with us in March, 2008.
We could not and do not understand why the CID did not keep or know the whereabouts of Ben’s blood stained clothes he wore the night of his death. They were not aware that the Ft. Bliss Casualty office had picked up and washed the clothes, and made sure to destroy evidence in an on-going investigation. Even to this day some blood stains still remain.
We discovered, through emails from a NM Representative (now Senator) in February 2009, that the CID closed my son’s case in October 12, 2008. No official notification was given to the family about the case being closed. How do they not think that this does not warrant personal and public outrage? We are still in contact with the state representatives and senators in the hope of getting some support from them.
The original autopsy report was written exactly the way we heard it from the men in his unit. These were the men who were with him the night he died; the men with whom our son had altercations; the men who admitted to bum rushing Ben on the DVD; the men who had threatened him, as recorded on the DVD, and the men who served as honor guards in burying our son. They made our son sound like he was a drunk, pulling pranks, and that he premeditated his death by giving a key to his roommate that night, but in fact the roommate had a key months prior to his death.
The original autopsy report, which had erroneous entries of race and weight, and another report with testimony from the members who we suspected of killing him, became final legal documents. We question why they would make these entries when the final report of the investigation had not been completed or finalized.
In the original autopsy report, physical evidence was noted: a singed eyebrow, cut index finger, split lip, and the examiner claimed his hyoid bone was intact. After having an independent second autopsy report completed, we are told that his hyoid bone is missing. We, Ben’s family, request to have the hyoid bone returned; this clearly belongs with my son’s remains. Why would the Army Examiner remove my son’s hyoid bone, and keep it without notifying the family? According the Pathologist from the Department of the Army, they kept it for evidence. The family asks, "evidence of what? Is it broken and the cause of death strangulation?"
Every day we feel the void that my family experiences in their daily lives, as I see it in them and they see it in us.
We have read many other stories of other soldiers’ questionable deaths and it saddens us that we share the same grief, emptiness, and alienation from what has taken place with our children in the military. My thoughts and prayers go out to you. God Bless.
Judy & Jeronimo Griego
Link to interview: Even More Suspicious Non-combat Deaths