Local News

Army's tests on Bragg housing don't sway mothers of dead children

Posted May 9, 2011 3:00 p.m. EDT
Updated May 9, 2011 7:07 p.m. EDT

— Two women said Monday that they don't believe the Army's conclusion that nothing inside the homes on Fort Bragg is to blame for the unexplained deaths of their sons and 10 other children.

The Army Criminal Investigative Command closed its investigation into the deaths, which all occurred in military housing on post since early 2007, saying repeated tests found no environmental factors that could have been a common link to the deaths of the infants and toddlers.

"I've pressed them for everything. I went up there and raised havoc, yelled and screamed and cried and begged and everything," Melissa Pollard said. "It's as if they don't care. It's not their family. It wasn't their child."

Pollard's 2-month-old son, Jay'Vair, died in April 2009 in a home in the Ardennes neighborhood on post. Three months later, her young niece died in the same house.

Another infant died in the house in 2007.

The three deaths prompted the Army to open an investigation last summer, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission conducted some of its own tests.

Between the CID and the CPSC, 10 homes where children died were tested for carbon monoxide, mercury vapor, mold, lead, asbestos, pesticides and toxins in the drywall. All tests were negative or were at levels well below the standard for human exposure set by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, officials said.

Pollard said she doesn't believe the findings and said families should conduct their own tests.

"There was something wrong with that house. When we lived there, we were always sick," she said.

Likewise, Brittany Garza said she has no faith in the Army's investigation. Her 4-month-old son, Jaxson, died in a house on post in February.

"It doesn’t surprise me that they haven’t found any answers,” Garza said. “They don’t want to find the answers. For three babies to die in one house, that doesn’t add up.”

Jaxson's case is one of two infant deaths that remain under investigation for now because they occurred after CID had started its investigation.

"It’s not just a string of bad parenting,” Garza said, “because why do we have other children who are doing well?”

CID plans to reopen any of the closed cases if new evidence surfaces.

Jamie Hernan, an attorney for the families, has filed a public records request for all CID documents from the investigation and said he might push to have independent tests done.

Gerald LeBlanc, a professor of toxicology at North Carolina State University, said that he finds the CPSC results to be "very convincing." He said he doen't see any smoking gun for families to pursue.

The home where the three babies died has remained vacant since the Army started its investigation, but Fort Bragg spokesman Col. Michael Whetston said people might be allowed to live in the home again after the Army's Public Health Command finishes a separate study next month.

Despite her frustration, Pollard said she is happy to get her son's blanket back because the investigation is over.

"(It was) the very last thing he had touched, and I was finally able to hold a piece of him again," she said.