Saturday, 16 October 2010

SIDS: Fort Bragg deaths

Mike Hixenbaugh and Francis X. Gilpin

Nearly a month after announcing a review of infant deaths at Fort Bragg, military investigators this week began officially contacting parents who lost children.
Mackenzie Agee and her husband, Spc. Eli Agee, were among the families who received phone calls Wednesday and Thursday from the Army Criminal Investigative Command, officially informing the parents of the probe.
The couple's 8-month-old son, Lachlan, died of unknown causes more than two years ago inside their home in the Ardennes neighborhood on post.
"He said he's been looking at these cases for the last two months," Mackenzie Agee said of the military investigator. "Really? And you never thought to contact the families?"
Agee, like other parents, said she learned of the renewed military interest in 10 infant deaths in post housing since 2007 from reading the newspaper and watching television a few weeks ago.
The cause of nine of the 10 deaths hasn't been announced. Eight of the deaths are officially undetermined. One succumbed to sudden infant death syndrome, and the 10th death remains under investigation, officials said.
The ages of the deceased ranged from two weeks to eight months.
"It's ridiculous," Agee said. "I fought for more than a year for answers - for someone to be held accountable - and I didn't hear anything. Now I find out from watching the news that they're reviewing my son's death. The military is talking now that their (rears) are on the line."
Case reopened
Chris Grey, a spokesman for the Criminal Investigative Command, said investigators reopened another infant death case Thursday. That makes five of the 10 death cases since 2007 that are now under review by the Criminal Investigative Command.
Thursday's reopened case originally was investigated by Fayetteville police, Grey said.
All of those families have or will be notified, Grey said. In response to criticism, Grey said the investigators promise to do a better job of communicating with the families from now on.
Grey said the other five deaths have been the subject of active investigations all along.
"Ours is independent of anything that is being done by Fort Bragg officials," said Grey, whose command is testing post housing with the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission.
At a third and final town hall-style meeting called to address the deaths, Col. Stephen Sicinski, garrison commander at Fort Bragg, urged soldiers Thursday not to lose faith in their superiors.
"If you had a trust issue with your chain of command, would you still be in the service?" Sicinski asked the crowd of about 50 in a gymnasium at Fort Bragg's Bowley Elementary School. "We don't deserve not to be trusted."
Ongoing tests by Fort Bragg officials prompted Picerne Military Housing program manager John Shay to declare five of the 10 dwellings where babies died to be safe for human habitation.
Officials said they aren't inclined to identify all of the addresses on post where babies died.
Sicinski, who serves as a kind of city manager for Fort Bragg, said the more extensive testing by the Consumer Product Safety Commission may not yield definitive results until February.
Fort Bragg officials say they are trying to be responsive to families who lost children. The officials also said they are working to ease the concerns of other families who fear conditions inside military housing might be to blame for the deaths.
Town-hall meeting
At Thursday's meeting, officials continued to discount the possibility that environmental factors caused the infant deaths.
Col. Jeffrey Kingsbury encouraged the idea that sudden infant death syndrome ultimately will be found to be responsible for most of the recent tragedies.
Kingsbury, a physician and chief of preventative medicine at Womack Army Medical Center, said infants should sleep on their backs and away from crib fixtures such blankets and stuffed animals, which could constrict their breathing.
However, Brig. Gen. Michael Garrett, chief of staff for the 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, said he has his suspicions about a Groesbeck Street house where the families of three dead babies either lived or were visiting.
"I personally think there is something there," Garrett told the parents

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