Local News

Army backs off snake-bite theory of soldier's death

Posted June 7, 2010 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated June 7, 2010 6:52 p.m. EDT

— The military is doing an about-face with regard to the 2008 death of a Fort Bragg soldier training to become a Green Beret.

Pfc. Norman Murburg, 20, went into the Hoffman Training Area on post on June 9, 2008, on a 10-hour training mission. He never returned, and other soldiers found him the next day – his body in one spot and his backpack in another.

Three months later, the Army determined that Murburg died after being bitten by a venomous snake and ruled the death accidental. The report noted discoloration on Murburg's left hand and said soldiers killed a water moccasin near the spot where he was found.

"It's nothing but a snake bite story," said his father, Mike Murburg, who doubted the Army's version of what happened.

The grieving father sought expert medical advice in his home state of Florida, and Dr. John Thogmartin, chief medical examiner in Pinellas County, agreed that the snake bite explanation was questionable.

"If you look at what's going on, it's probably some sort of sudden event that took over his ability to be conscious and make conscious decisions in a relatively rapid fashion, so he couldn't activate his tracking beacon," Thogmartin said. "That's not consistent with a snake bite."

The autopsy photos weren't consistent with a snake bite either, he said.

"Even in his state of decomposition, you could probably tell that there would be something wrong with one hand versus the other hand, (but) his hands look the same – they're symmetrical," he said.

Mike Murburg said he is convinced that his son likely became disoriented and died of dehydration or heat exhaustion during the training exercise.

"The exercise should have been black-flagged," he said, referring to a signal to halt a race.

After he pressed the issue and got help from a member of Florida's congressional delegation, the Army recently changed Norman Murburg's cause of the death to undetermined.

Mike Murburg continues to seek his son's medical records from the Army so he can get a second opinion.

The Army will not comment on the case because the investigation is ongoing.