Family of dead Army soldier denied access to his body: ‘My Army has failed me’
The fallen soldier will now be wrapped head-to-toe in opaque bandages and placed underneath a blanket or cloth for his funeral.
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The immediate family of late U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Jamié Contreras tells WIS that military leadership has denied their viewing of his body following an autopsy.
On Monday, SSG Contreras was found unresponsive on a land navigation course nearly ten hours after he was announced missing by U.S. Army Training Center & Fort Jackson leadership.
Post leadership confirmed that Contreras was located unresponsive approximately 50 meters, or 164 feet, off course.
Contreras’ family said the cause of his deviation and death during training at the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy (USADSA), which sits within Fort Jackson, has not been released by federal investigators.
WIS spoke with three members of Contreras’ immediate family out of Flagstaff, Arizona through video communication on Friday.
“We’ve been trying to get answers and we’ve been put to the side,” said Armando Cespedes, Contreras’ uncle who personally served 25 years within the Army. “I feel my Army has failed me.”
Cespedes said it’s hard to console his grieving sister, Contreras’ mother, as faith in his former branch of service diminishes with every day of unanswered questions.
“[Cespedes] devoted his life to the military. My son [Contrares] was in the process of devoting, and I guess you could say he did devote his life to the military. So, I’m respectful of their procedures, but I don’t know their procedures,” said Thelma Gomez on behalf of her late child and only son.
The grieving mother described Contreras as devoted to his five children and committed to his country and service. She said he loved his time as a Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) at Fort Liberty, formerly Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he worked in food operations.
Gomez made clear to punctuate her respect for the military, as well as her appreciation to Fort Jackson leadership and the plethora of community partners who located her son late Monday night.
In that, she cites a lack of transparency or information from the branch her son sacrificed his life for. This was after Army leadership reportedly denied the family from viewing his body Thursday afternoon.
Gomez said the original arrangement was an open casket funeral for her son as he was reportedly located “intact and peacefully unresponsive” on Monday. This, according to multiple sources she deems credible.
Leadership tasked her with picking out a coffin and uniform for her sons’ funeral which will ultimately be held in Arizona, the state he was raised in.
“Why is the body un-viewable? So that I don’t, in turn, go into the dark and make speculations and assumptions that I don’t want to make, I’d like to know why,” continued Gomez.
Per the Contreras family, the fallen soldier will now be wrapped head-to-toe in opaque bandages and placed underneath a blanket or cloth. The uniform selected by his mother will be placed on top of the coverings.
“Why? Like my mother said, we’re left to speculate or fill the holes ourselves. And that just makes this grieving process more challenging. Jamié deserves better,” said Lorizelda Stoeller, Contreras’ older sister and only sibling.
For a better understanding of why leadership reportedly denied the family access to Contreras’ body, I reached out to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID), the federal agency leading the ongoing investigation.
CID politely clarified that body viewing does not fall under their agency and referred us to media relations at Fort Jackson.
Fort Jackson, who has been abundantly transparent on how cases like this are typically handled, confirmed this issue does not fall under their purview, either.
WIS later reached out to media relations at Fort Liberty, the base Contreras’ was actively assigned to, who never returned the call.
Fort Jackson’s leadership maintains that nothing Nefarious resulted in Contreras’ death. At a minimum, the investigation and administrate inquiry into what happened Monday night will last several weeks.
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