Army Behavior Experts to Probe Fort Bragg Killings

August 23, 2002

By Charles Aldinger

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An Army team of behavior experts will go to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on Sunday to search for any thread connecting the recent killings of four women there, allegedly by their soldier husbands, the Army said on Friday.

"This is not to determine blame but to see if there is anything we can do to prevent this in the future," said one Army official.

The 16-member epidemiological team of psychiatrists, doctors, psychologists, social workers and a chaplain will interview senior officers, families and others at the home base of the elite 82nd Airborne Division and Army commando units.

They will spend at least four days at the sprawling base near Fayetteville, from where soldiers have been sent to Afghanistan as part of the U.S. war on terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Fort Bragg was shocked when four soldiers there, including three special operations troops who returned home after tours of duty in Afghanistan, allegedly killed their wives this summer.

In two of the cases the soldiers killed themselves after shooting their spouses, officials said. In the other two the servicemen were arrested.

Senior Army medical officials said the investigators will look at a wide range of issues -- from deployment stress to medical matters and any potential gap in military community support for troops and their families.

"We have about 50 suicides a year in the Army alone. It's a problem," one of the officials, who asked not to be identified, told reporters at a Pentagon briefing.

The investigation will include whether the killings might be related to the widely used anti-malaria drug mefloquine, which can prompt rare side effects such as rage and suicidal tendencies. But Army officials said there was little likelihood that it would be a common thread.


Recent media reports suggested that mefloquine was a target for investigators. Roche Laboratories produces mefloquine under the brand name Lariam and the medication is used to both prevent and treat malaria.

"It doesn't seem that Lariam is a common theme, at least at this point," said an Army medical official. He said that all of the troops involved had not even taken mefloquine.

Officials at the Army's Special Operations Command in Fort Bragg say domestic killings are very unusual, even among servicemen returning from a war zone. But the command has continued to look into possible common circumstances in the crimes.

In the first incident the bodies of Sgt. 1st Class Rigoberto Nieves, 32, who had just returned from Afghanistan, and his wife, Teresa, were found on June 11 in their home outside the base. Both died of gunshot wounds.

In the second Master Sgt. William Wright, 36, led authorities to the body of his wife, Jennifer, who had been strangled and buried in a shallow grave in a wooded area on the base. Wright, who served in Afghanistan for two months and returned in mid-May, reported his wife missing on July 1. He was charged by the local sheriff's department with first-degree murder.

On July 19 authorities found the bodies of Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Floyd, 30, who returned from Afghanistan in January, and his wife, Andrea, at their home off base. Both had been shot to death.

In the fourth incident, Sgt. Cedric Griffin, 28, a Fort Bragg soldier who had not been deployed to Afghanistan, was charged with stabbing his estranged wife, Marilyn, at least 50 times and setting her home on fire on July 9.

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