Family of dead soldier pleads with US Army for answers: ‘Their reputation is tainted’

“I really want to know what happened to my brother, whatever it may be,” said the sister of SFC Jamié Contreras.
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Published: Jul. 20, 2023 at 11:48 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The family of a fallen soldier says they’re still without answers over one month after his unexplained death at the United States Army Training Center & Fort Jackson.

On June 12, Sergeant First Class Jamié Contreras went missing on post during a land navigation exercise while attending a ten-week class at the United States Army Drill Sergeant Academy (USADSA).

The 40-year-old soldier with nine years of service under the 82nd Airborne Division was found unresponsive approximately 50 meters or 164 feet off course after a nearly ten-hour manhunt involving hundreds of law enforcement partners.

Within the week of his death, Contreras’ family told WIS that military leadership denied their viewing of his body following an autopsy and promise of an open-casket funeral.

“In my eyes… what my son hoped to dedicate his adult life to was tainted,” said Contreras’ mother, Thelma Gomez of Flagstaff, Ariz.

According to Gomez, investigators with the US Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) said her son was found dead with rigor mortis setting in on June 12.

Despite this information, Gomez’ Causality Assistance Officer (CAO) said the date of death was June 13, which was subsequently printed on Contreras’ obituary.

The “open casket” funeral of SFC Contreras in Flagstaff, Ariz.
The “open casket” funeral of SFC Contreras in Flagstaff, Ariz.(Thelma Gomez)

Gomez and her daughter, Lorizelda Stoeller, said his date of death was then changed to June 12 before it was almost immediately changed back to June 13.

“I feel like a ping-pong ball. Is it the 12th or is it the 13th? Somebody at Fort Jackson needs to at least give me the semblance that they know what they’re doing,” continued Gomez.

As it relates to CIDs ongoing investigation, the family said they were recently notified by the lead investigator that it was extended an additional six to eight months.

“Honestly, I have a lack of trust right now with the information they’re giving us. It’s kind of like they’re trying to piecemeal what they can… I really want to know what happened to my brother, whatever it may be, and that’s what we’re seeking. The honest truth,” said Stoeller, Contreras’ older sister and only sibling.

On Thursday, WIS reached out to CID and Fort Jackson personnel for context on the family’s claims. The first response I received was less than 10 minutes later:

“The investigation by Army Criminal Investigation Division, in partnership with the Fort Jackson Installation Safety Office, is ongoing. To protect the integrity of the investigation, no additional details can be provided at this time.”

By the afternoon, another Fort Jackson spokesperson confirmed Contreras’ date of death for the first time publicly:

“Fort Jackson Military Police located Staff Sgt. Contreras June 12, at 11:15 p.m. with no signs of life. Fort Jackson Emergency Medical Service personnel pronounced Staff. Sgt. Contreras deceased June 13, at 12:06 a.m.”

Within the hour of this story airing, WIS received a response from CID:

“Army CID does not determine times or dates of death, please contact USAG Jackson Public Affairs.

We are unsure where the time frame of 7-8 months has come from. Army CID Special Agents have spoken with the family and have communicated to them that the family can, at any time, contact our Special Agents with questions or concerns.”

Gomez said she was never informed of the exact time her son was declared dead and assured me that an agent told them they were extending the timeline of the investigation.

Military personnel and/or community members with additional comments or concerns on the death of SFC Jamié Contreras are encouraged to reach out to the author of this article:

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