The military has finally, after nine months, announced the results of its probe into the death by gunshot of a gay soldier in Afghanistan last fall. But her family doesn't seem to be satisfied.
The military's handling of the case has been disturbing from the outset, with claims of murder voiced by friends and family due to the fact that the victim was known to be gay and had written home that she had seen some troubling things that might cause her not to survive. I started writing about this last October.
Officials first reported that Ciara Durkin, 30, of Quincy, Mass., who served in the National Guard, had died "in action," then revealed that she was killed in a "noncombat" incident that was being investigated.
Her family was told that she had been killed by a single gunshot near a church. They soon charged that the military had been dragging its feet in giving them more details. They rejected any chance of suicide and suspected friendly fire or murder.
They said she had told them to push for an investigation if anything ever happened to her. She was in a finance unit and may have found some improprieties, according to a story in one newspaper, which also disclosed that her family had notified the military about her concerns about her safety.
An e-mail she had sent friends in June 2007, claimed a fellow soldier had pulled a 9mm gun on her.
The Boston Globe reported that the family wondered if, as a lesbian, she may have been targeted. Sen. John Kerry and Sen. Ted Kennedy pushed for answers.
"She did say to us that she had concerns about things she was seeing when she was over there," her sister, Fiona Canavan, told WGBH-TV in Boston. "She told us if anything happened to her, that we were to investigate it."
Canavan said the family was wondering whether Durkin might have been singled out because she was gay. "Ciara was a lesbian, and that's bound to come out," Canavan said. "It is possible that someone over there found that out, and, you know, maybe they were very homophobic."
The family insisted Durkin was happy, engaged to her lesbian partner, and excited about returning home this past January.
Just two weeks ago, Durkin's friends and family members marched on her behalf in the Boston gay pride parade. Durkin, a former volunteer with the Pride Committee, had been named an honorary Pride marshal.
This week came the military's response at long last.: After a nine-month investigation, investigators concluded Durkin used her Army issue M-16 rifle to shoot herself in the head near a church on the secure Bagram Airbase on Sept. 28, 2007. The question of "why" remained and Durkin's family appears not convinced, or at least still wondering what drove her to it, saying they are "saddened" by the Army's final report.
"We are very upset and saddened by their conclusion," the family said in a statement on their Web site. "We have borne an extraordinary amount of pain over the past nine months, compounded by a protracted and at times ambiguous investigation."
At editorial in her hometown Patriot-Ledger today raises questions about the epidemic of suicides among vets, in the war zones and back home, before concluding: "We can treat the physical injuries received on the battlefields but the hidden wounds can be as potentially debilitating and fatal. Ciara Durkin died while in service to her country. It would be a dishonor and a disservice to her and the hundreds of others like her to treat their deaths as a personal failure rather than a victim of war."
Greg Mitchell's new book includes several chapters on soldier/vet suicides. It is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq. He is editor of Editor & Publisher.
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