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'My Daughter’s Dream Became a Nightmare': The Murder of Military Women Continues

Ann Wright

"My daughter's dream became
a nightmare," sadly said Gloria Barrios, seven months after her daughter,
US Air Force Senior Airman Blanca Luna, was murdered on Sheppard Air
Force Base, Texas.

On March 7, 2008, Senior Airman
Luna, 27, was found dead in her room at the Sheppard Air Force Base
Inn, an on-base lodging facility.  She had been stabbed in the
back of the neck with a short knife.  Luna, an Air Force Reservist
with four years of prior military service in the Marine Corps including
a tour in Japan, was killed three days before she was to graduate from
an Air Conditioning, Ventilation and Heating training course. 

When she was notified of her
daughter's death, she was handed a letter from Major General K.C.
McClain, Commander of the Air Force Personnel Center, which stated that
her daughter "was found dead on 7 March 2008 at Sheppard Air Force
Base, Texas, as the result of an apparent homicide." When her body
was returned to her family for burial, Barrios and other family members
saw bruises on Blanca's face and wounds on her fingers as if she were
defending herself. One of the investigators later told Mrs. Barrios
that Blanca had been killed in an "assassin-like" manner. Friends
say that she told them some in her unit "had given her problems."

Seven months later, Luna's
mother made her first visit to the base where her daughter was killed
to pry more information about her daughter's death from the Air Force.
Although the Air Force sent investigators to her home in Chicago several
times to brief her on the case, she was concerned that the Air Force
would not provide a copy of the autopsy report and other documents,
seven months after Luna was killed. The Air Force says it cannot provide
Mrs. Barrios with a copy of the autopsy as the investigation is "ongoing."
Mrs. Barrios plans to have an independent autopsy conducted.

She was accompanied by her
sister and six persons from a support group in Chicago and by several
concerned Texans from Dallas, Fort Worth and Denton.  The Chicago
support group, composed of long time, experienced social justice activists
in the Hispanic community, also included Juan Torres, whose son John,
an Army soldier, was found dead under very suspicious circumstances
in 2004 at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.  Because of his battle
to get documents from the Army bureaucracy on the death of his son four
years ago, Torres has been helping the Barrios family in their effort
to gain information about the death of Luna.  

When Mrs. Barrios and friends
arrived on the Air Base they were greeted by five Air Force officials.  
Mrs. Barrios requested that her support group be allowed to join her
in an Air Force conducted bus tour of the facilities where her daughter
went to school and the lodging facility where she was found dead, but
the request was denied. Mrs. Barrios then asked that her friend and
translator Magda Castaneda and retired US Army Colonel Ann Wright be
allowed to go on the bus and attend the meeting with the base commander
and investigators.  

After consultation with the
base public affairs officer, the deputy Wing Commander Colonel Norsworthy
decreed that only Mrs. Barrios' sister and Mr. Torres could accompany
her.  Neither Mrs. Barrios, her sister or Mr. Torres is fluent
in English.  Mrs. Barrios told the Air Force officers she did not
feel comfortable with having translators provided by the Air Force and
again asked that Mrs. Castaneda be allowed to translate for her as Mrs.
Castaneda had done numerous times during Air Force briefings at her
home.  She asked that retired US Army Colonel Ann Wright be allowed
to go as she knew the military bureaucracy. 

In front of the support group,
the Air Force public affairs officer George Woodward advised Colonel
Norsworthy  not to allow Mrs.Casteneda  and Colonel Wright
to come on the base and attend the meetings as both were "outspoken
in the media and their presence would jeopardize the integrity of the
meeting with the family."  

Mrs. Castaneda countered that
during a previous meeting with the Air Force investigators in Chicago,
she had been told by one investigator that she asked too many questions. 
Could that be the reason that she unable to accompany Mrs. Barrios,
she asked?  Mrs. Barrios also reminded the officers that after
she was interviewed for an article about her daughter that was published
in July in the Chicago Reader "Murder on the Base"  (http://www.chicagoreader.com/features/stories/murderonthebase/), she was warned by an Air Force official
not to speak to the media again.   

Mrs. Castaneda demanded that
Woodward provide her a copy of the article on which he based his decision
to recommend to the deputy base commander that she not be allowed on
the base and translate for the family.  Several hours later Woodward
gave Castaneda an article from Indy media in which she was quoted as
the translator for Mrs. Barrios in which she had translated Barrios'
statement that "Luna a four year Marine veteran." 

While Colonel Wright (the author
of this article) has written numerous articles concerning the rape and
murder of women in the military, she reminded the officers that she
holds a valid military ID card as a retired Colonel, that she had not
violated any laws or military regulations by writing and speaking about
issues of violence against women in the military and that most families
of military members who have been killed are at a disadvantage in dealing
with the military bureaucracy in finding answers to the questions they
have about the deaths of their loved ones. She reminded the officials
that the parents of NFL football player Pat Tillman, who after three
Congressional hearings on the death of their son in Afghanistan in 2002,
still don't have the answers to the questions of who killed their
son and why hasn't the perpetrator of the crime been brought to justice. 
Families of "ordinary" service members, and particularly families
limited knowledge of the military and with limited financial means find
themselves at the mercy of the military for information. 

The base Catholic Chaplain
and the Staff Judge Advocate, both colonels, were silent during the
exchange.  One would have thought that perhaps a chaplain who watched
as Mrs. Barrios, a single mother whose only daughter had been killed
and whose English was minimal, broke down in tears and sat sobbing on
the curb as the public affairs officer described her friends as "outspoken
and a threat to the integrity of the meetings" would have been sensitive
to a grieving mother's need for a family friend who had translated
in all the previous meetings with the Air Force investigators-but
he was silent.  Likewise, the senior lawyer on the base who no
doubt had handled many criminal cases, would have recognized that a
distraught mother would need someone who could take notes and understand
the nuances of the discussion in English during the very stressful discussions
with the investigators-but he was silent.  Instead, the colonels
bowed to the civilian public affairs officer's advice that "outspoken"
women were a threat to the "integrity of the meeting." 

Eventually, Mrs. Barrios, her
sister Algeria and Juan Torres met with Brigadier General Mannon, the
commander of the 82nd Training Wing and with three members
of the Office of Special Investigations.  Mrs. Barrios said they
were given no new information about the investigation and questioned
again why her friends, who over the past seven months have been a part
of the briefings from the Air Force, had been kept out of meetings where
the Air Force officials knew they were not going to provide any new
information. 

Since 2003 there have been
34 homicides and 218 "self-inflicted" deaths (suicides) in the Air
Force and in 2007-2008 alone, 5 homicides and 35 "self-inflicted"
deaths according to the Public  Affairs office of the 82nd
Training Wing at Sheppard Air Force base. 

On the same day Mrs. Barrios
went to Sheppard Air Force Base, October 3, 2008, the US Army announced
that a US Army woman sergeant had been killed near Fort Bragg, North
Carolina by a stab wound in the neck.  Sergeant Christina Smith,
29, was stabbed on September 30, 2008, allegedly by her US Army husband
Sergeant Richard Smith who was accompanied by Private First Class Matthew
Kvapil. 

Smith was the fourth military
woman murdered in North Carolina in the past 9 months. 

On June 21, 2008, US Army Specialist
Megan Touma, 23, was killed inside a Fayetteville, NC hotel, less than
two weeks after she arrived at Fort Bragg from an assignment in Germany. 
She was seven months pregnant. Sergeant Edgar Patino, a married male
soldier assigned to Fort Bragg whom Touma knew from Germany and who
reportedly was the father of the unborn child, has been arrested for
her murder.

On July 10, 2008, Army 2nd
Lt. Holley Wimunc, an Army nurse at Fort Bragg, was killed.  Her
estranged husband, Marine Corporal John Wimunc of Camp Lejeune, NC has
been arrested in her death and the burning of her body and Lance Corporal
Kyle Alden was arrested for destroying evidence and providing a false
alibi. 

Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach
had been raped in May 2007 and protective orders had been issued against
the alleged perpetrator, fellow Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean. The burned
body of Lauterbach and her unborn baby were found in a shallow grave
in the backyard of Laurean's home in January 2008.  Laurean fled to
Mexico, where he was captured by Mexican authorities. He is currently
awaiting extradition to the United States to stand trial. Lauterbach's
mother testified before Congress on July 31, 2008, that the Marine Corps
ignored warning signs that Laurean was a danger to her daughter .

On Wednesday, October 8, at
11:30am, a vigil for the four military women and all victims of violence
will be held at the Main Gate at Fort Bragg followed by a discussion
on violence against women at the Quaker Peace Center in Fayetteville,
NC and a wreath laying at Lafayette Memorial Park. The events are sponsored
by the Coalition to End Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in the
Military, Veterans for Peace and the Quaker Peace Center. 


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Ann Wright

Ann Wright

Ann Wright is a 29 year US Army/Army Reserves veteran who retired as a Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in March 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq.  She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia.  In December 2001 she was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.  She is the co-author of the book "Dissent: Voices of Conscience."

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