Local News

Vigil highlights military women's deaths

Posted October 8, 2008
Updated December 9, 2008

— Several advocacy groups demonstrated Wednesday outside Fort Bragg to draw attention to what they see as an alarming rate of domestic violence in military families.

The vigil at the Yadkin Road gate to the Army post comes after four enlisted women, including three at Fort Bragg, were slain in the last 10 months. The men accused of each of the crimes are in the military.

Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach was beaten to death in December, and her charred remains were found in January in the back yard of Cpl. Cesar Laurean, a fellow Camp Lejeune Marine. Laurean is awaiting extradition from Mexico, where he was arrested after a three-month international manhunt.

Spc. Megan Touma's body was found in a Fayetteville motel room in June, nine days after she arrived at Fort Bragg. Sgt. Edgar Patino, a student at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, has been charged in the case.

The burned remains of 2nd Lt. Holley Wimunc, a nurse at Womack Army Medical Center, were found in Onslow County in July, three days after a suspicious fire was reported at her Fayetteville apartment. Her estranged husband, Marine Cpl. John Wimunc, and another Camp Lejeune Marine, have been charged in her death.

Sgt. Christina Smith was killed on Sept. 30 in an apparent mugging. Investigators said her husband, Sgt. Richard Smith, paid another serviceman to carry out the attack.

The activists said servicemen and women are trained to be violent in combat, and that behavior often spills into their personal lives. They said the military is ignoring the problem and downplaying the deaths.

"The military is not even acknowledging that there is this trend," said Ann Wright, a retired Army Reserves colonel. "It's taken the civilian community – us being here at the Quaker House – that's where (the public) is finding out about it. It's not because the military itself is saying, 'We're having a major problem.'"

The Quaker House, a local meeting place for members of the pacifist religious community, Veterans for Peace and the Fayetteville chapter of the National Organization for Women took part in the demonstration. They said the military should have more counseling and better ways to identify at-risk service members who are back from deployment.

"We call upon the senior leadership of the military to take this seriously," Wright said. "It can make sure that it tracks people who are showing erratic signs."

The demonstrators acknowledged that domestic violence is a problem throughout society – not just the military – but they said the rate of it is much higher among military families. They described a "culture of secrecy" in the military that enables service members to think they can get away with violence.

"We know that, No. 1, the incidents are a bit higher. They're not extremely higher, but they are higher," said Michael McPhearson, a Gulf War veteran and a member of Veterans for Peace.

Officials at Fort Bragg said no studies have shown a higher rate of domestic violence among servicemen and women. They have said the Army has more programs than any civilian workplace to address such problems.

"No one can compare to the programs we have in place," Fort Bragg spokesman Tom McCollum said, adding that the post hasn't seen a spike in domestic violence cases as a result of recent deployments.

In addition to the morning vigil, demonstrators laid a wreath at the grave of Beryl Mitchell, who was killed in 1974 by her soldier husband.

22 Comments

This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • jse830fcnawa030klgmvnnaw+ Oct 8, 2008

    Forgot to mention that I am glad that there are advocacy groups who are trying to draw attention to these type of domestic violence in the military. May be something good will come out of it. Military families need all the support they can get. It is very tough having to move often as part of reassignment or deployment, while trying to maintain some resemblence of an American family as portrayed in the Norman Rockwell paintings.

  • jse830fcnawa030klgmvnnaw+ Oct 8, 2008

    Rev. RB, I cannot imagine what you had gone through in the military. This is unfortunately not an isolated case inside or outside of the military. I believe Congress should invest in these soldiers, sailors, and aviators to be model citizens, but it is easier and cheaper to put money in high-tech weaponry systems. Counseling is the first step, but it is often infrequent and late, as in your situation.

    I was a military brat and my father was in the Special Forces, frequently dropped behind enemy lines during 'Nam. He was a demolition expert, rank of Sargent-Major, and despised officers but supported his troops. My Mom and Dad ended up separating since he became more and more withdrawn, to the point that he was mentally abusing his family. Luckily, my Mom had the vigor to be a single mother and ignored the gossipy remarks from others. Dad suffered, but he had no help to deal with his pain. I truly believe he saw civilians killed with his troops in 'Nam, which traumatized him...

  • NavySrChiefswife Oct 8, 2008

    You are also confusing the two issues. I never said they should dismiss your case/situation. I just wanted to know if the military should be held to a higher standard regarding domestic abuse. As I stated, I am sorry about your situation and the fact that it has gone unsolved.

  • NavySrChiefswife Oct 8, 2008

    I know the oath, it is the same for all branches of the service. But you still did not answer my question-- what should have been done with no evidence?

  • Adelinthe Oct 8, 2008

    USMC Oath -

    "I DO SOLEMNLY SWEAR THAT I WILL SUPPORT AND DEFEND THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES AGAINST ALL ENEMIES, FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC; THAT I WILL BEAR TRUE FAITH AND ALLEGIANCE TO THE SAME AND THAT I WILL OBEY THE ORDERS OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES AND THE ORDERS OF THE OFFICERS APPOINTED OVER ME, ACCORDING TO THE REGULATIONS AND THE UNIFORM CODE OF MILITARY JUSTICE. SO HELP ME GOD."

    So where does it say civilians don't count???

    God bless.

    Rev. RB

  • Adelinthe Oct 8, 2008

    kimcollins - "An oath to protect and serve the country."

    That's a moot point.

    They take an oath to protect the defenseless.

    God bless.

    Rev. RB

  • NavySrChiefswife Oct 8, 2008

    An oath to protect and serve the country. The police are the one who protect the streets. I was not dismissing the incident, I was just asking what was to be done since you were not able to provide them with any information. It is the same with civilian crimes where no evidence is available, it becomes a cold case.

  • Adelinthe Oct 8, 2008

    kimcollins - "However, what was supposed to happen if you could not identify anyone involved?"

    A little compassion would have been nice; instead it was just dismissed, brushed away like a piece of dust.

    "Why do you feel we (the military) should be held to a higher standard? Because we wear a uniform?"

    No, because they have signed a contract and sworn an oath to protect.

    God bless.

    Rev. RB

  • NavySrChiefswife Oct 8, 2008

    Rev R B Sorry to hear about your unfortunate experience. I would never want that to happen to anyone. However, what was supposed to happen if you could not identify anyone involved? Have every man on base DNA tested?

  • NavySrChiefswife Oct 8, 2008

    Rev R B what happens to a civilian when he/she abuses their spouse? Nothing Why do you feel we (the military) should be held to a higher standard? Because we wear a uniform?

More...