Local News

Vigil highlights military women's deaths

Posted October 8, 2008 4:01 a.m. EDT
Updated December 9, 2008 5:49 a.m. EST

— 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.

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.

'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.