As the Army Criminal Investigation Command opened a probe into the mysterious deaths of two soldiers found together in a remote training area of Fort Bragg earlier this week, grisly details have emerged about the fate of a paratrooper who went missing from the base earlier this year—only for his partial remains to wash ashore a week later.
Authorities have so far been tightlipped about the cause of death of the two men found at the North Carolina military base on Wednesday, identified as 44-year-old Army veteran Timothy Dumas and 37-year-old Army Master Sergeant William J. Lavigne II, a member of the Special Forces. The only detail released about their deaths is that it was not connected to any official training at the military site.
Dumas was previously stationed at Fort Bragg and had recently been living in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Lavigne had joined the Army in 2001 and had taken part in several Special Operations deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military said.
Adding to the mystery surrounding their deaths, a defense official cited by The Washington Post on Friday said, without elaborating, that there were early indicators that the pair was involved in some kind of criminal activity.
Officially, however, Army authorities have offered nothing but praise for the men.
Lavigne’s company commander, Lt. Col. Justin Duvall, called the situation “tragic” and praised Lavigne for having “dedicated himself to the Army for 19 years and deployed multiple times in the defense of our Nation.”
Lavigne and Dumas’ deaths follow another high-profile incident at the base. An autopsy revealed this week that a paratrooper from Fort Bragg who went missing in May had been decapitated, The Fayetteville Observer reports. Twenty-one-year-old Spc. Enrique Roman-Martinez was last seen camping with friends from the base at Cape Lookout National Seashore along the North Carolina coast.
The case was ruled a homicide a week later when his partial remains were discovered on Shackleford Banks Island, an area about 35 miles from Cape Lookout known for the tides forcing all kinds of things ashore.
The autopsy report relied solely on a decapitated head, with the report's authors noting that they had no other part of the body to examine.
“While decapitation is, in and of itself, universally fatal, the remainder of the body in this case was not available for examination, and therefore potential causes of death involving the torso and extremities cannot be excluded,” said the report obtained by The Fayetteville Observer.
The autopsy also determined that Roman-Martinez's eyes were missing and his hair had been pulled out, though it was not immediately clear if that was considered a result of the homicide or his exposure to the elements.
“Everything about this case doesn’t make sense,” Griselda Martinez, the sister of the slain paratrooper, told the Observer. She and other members of the family have questioned the account of those who’d been camping with Martinez the night he vanished.
An unidentified member of the group phoned 911 on the evening of May 23 to report that Martinez was gone, according to the Army Times. “When we woke up, he was not here and we’ve been looking for him all day,” the caller said, adding that the group had been trying to alert Park Rangers to no avail. A spokesperson for Cape Lookout National Seashore later said Park Rangers had had contact with the group about an improperly parked car, however, and that no one in the group had mentioned their missing friend.
The family has also questioned why the group waited all day to report the young paratrooper missing if he’d been gone since the morning, and they disputed the unidentified 911 caller’s claim that Martinez had “suicidal tendencies.”
Martinez’ family has said the Army did not permit them to meet with the seven soldiers who were camping with the 21-year-old when he went missing, nor have their identities been revealed.
The Army is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest of someone responsible for Roman-Martinez’s death. Army Criminal Investigation Command is still investigating the case, and Roman-Martinez’s family continues to push for answers. “If they get away with it, that will be the worst thing in the world,” Roman-Martinez’s sister Griselda Martinez told The Fayetteville Observer.
According to Stars & Stripes, more than 30 soldiers working at Fort Bragg have died so far in 2020. Half of those deaths have been ruled suicides. With nearly 54,000 military personnel and 14,000 civilian employees, Fort Bragg has the most people of any U.S. military base.