Local News

Army: Policies broken in slain soldier's disappearance

Posted September 11, 2008 11:08 a.m. EDT
Updated September 11, 2008 7:03 p.m. EDT

— Three non-commissioned officers have been reprimanded for not following policies and procedures to keep tabs on a new Fort Bragg soldier who later was found dead, the Army said Thursday.

The body of Spc. Megan Touma, 23, was found June 21 in a room at the Fairfield Inn near Cross Creek Mall. She had been assigned to Fort Bragg nine days earlier.

Sgt. Edgar Patino, 27, of 374 Lairgate Lane in Hope Mills, has been charged with murder in Touma's death. He is a student at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, part of Army Special Operations.

Police said Touma was pregnant at the time of her death and that Patino was the father.

Army officials said Touma wasn't seen at Fort Bragg after her first day on post, and the investigation into why she wasn't declared absent without leave resulted in the three general letters of reprimand.

Investigators also blamed Touma for not telling her superiors where she would be staying and how to get in touch with her.

"Every soldier is inherently responsible for keeping their chain of command informed of their whereabouts," the Army said in a statement.

Fort Bragg officials said Touma requested an assignment to the post in February and arrived on June 12. Investigators said she checked in with the 19th Replacement Company, a unit that helps new soldiers transition to their units, between 2 and 2:20 a.m. that day and made her initial formation four hours later.

The non-commissioned officer, or NCO, in charge of keeping track of Touma wrote her onto the unit roster at the formation. Later that day, her name was added to the unit's official computer-generated accountability roster, which officials said is standard practice.

Army investigators said Touma didn't provide her official personnel file, which contains emergency contact information, to the NCO. She also failed to leave a contact phone number when she signed out at the end of the day, investigators said.

Touma's unit was turned over to a second NCO on June 16, when the first one went on scheduled leave, investigators said. The acting NCO in charge failed to obtain the computer-generated roster, so he didn't know who was assigned to unit, investigators said.

Later, he removed Touma's name from the roster after being told she had moved to her assigned unit at Fort Bragg, investigators said. He didn't double-check a separate roster that verifies who has left the 19th Replacement Company for their permanent units, investigators said.

The acting NCO in charge of the unit later lied to investigators during the probe of Touma's AWOL status. He, the regular NCO in charge and another NCO in the unit were reprimanded for not ensuring Touma was accounted for.

Police said they believe Touma was killed late on June 13 or early on June 14 because no key card was used to access the room after that until a motel manager went into the room a week later and found her body.

Army investigators said that timeline means the NCOs' actions in failing to account for her whereabouts played no role in her death.

"The sequence of events and subsequent errors on the side of 19th Replacement could not have prevented her death, but it would have been alerted to her issue much sooner. (The company) is continuing to improve operations in order to prevent these errors in the future," the Army said in a statement.