Army nurse Katie Ann Blanchard had just texted her husband that she was wrapping up work.
Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw Clifford Currie in her doorway. The troubled junior co-worker had been menacing her for months.
Then she noticed the bottle of brownish liquid in his hand.
He stepped into the office and threw it at her.
“Right away, I can tell it’s gasoline. I don’t know what to do. Should I run?” she said.
“I stand up and I feel this sudden burst of heat.”
He’d thrown a match on her. Fire seared across her face, neck, chest, back, and arms. Co-worker Deanne Kilian heard the commotion, and shoved past Currie to get into the room, trying to help douse the flames with her own bare arms, burning them in the process.
The fire wouldn’t go out, so Kilian raced out, searching for a blanket.
Blanchard ran out too, looking for help. Currie attacked Blanchard again, with scissors. He was also apparently carrying a straightedge razor in his other hand.
She fought him, using her hands and arms to deflect the blades, and falling to the floor.
Co-workers rushed to help her. It was a messy wrestling match as they tried to give her first aid while also trying to keep Currie from stabbing her.
She was able to open her eyes, and watched him try to finish killing her.
“I remember seeing him above me with his foot on my neck,” she told The Daily Beast. “He’s so close to me and has this smirky smile on his face.”
“I knew he was trying to break her neck,” Kilian said. “So I grabbed his leg and pulled him off balance,” breaking her own leg in the scuffle. Another soldier finally subdued him.
On Tuesday—nearly a year after the incident took place—a federal court in Kansas just found Currie, a 54-year-old civilian employee of the Army, guilty of assault with intent to commit murder (PDF).
“The suspect... assaulted the victim through the use of an unknown flammable accelerant and straight edge razor blade,” FBI Special Agent J. C. Bauer said in the criminal complaint. “Currie then put his foot on Blanchard’s throat and was trying to stab her.”
Now, the severely injured soldier has the satisfaction of knowing her attacker will go to prison for up to 20 years, with his sentence being delivered in late October. Currie’s Kansas City public defender, who a clerk identified as Kirk Redmond, did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.
But Blanchard is furious. She says she complained about Currie’s menacing behavior for months. The officers at her hospital who should have protected her ignored her pleas for help, and she’s angry that the Army has not yet held anyone accountable.
And in the months since, she has had to fight for pain management services at the San Antonio Warrior Transition Unit to treat the soul-altering pain from the healing grafts and the donor sites where skin was harvested from her own body to cover the burns.
Then she had to fight to get counseling for the PTSD born from “looking into the eyes of a co-worker who threw a match on me and tried to kill me.” They even berated her for not wanting to wear her uniform—a uniform that now reminds her of the attack because pieces of it had burned into her.
She was also repeatedly threatened with disciplinary action for speaking to the media. She shared her story with The Daily Beast in her first national interview since Currie was found guilty, in hopes of starting a conversation about safety in the military workplace.
From January to September last year, Blanchard had begged her superior officers at Fort Leavenworth’s Munson Army Health Center for help with what she said was an increasingly hostile, violent, and belligerent co-worker.
Clifford repeatedly physically menaced her without actually touching her. She describes him as a rotund man, roughly 5-foot-8, dwarfing the tiny Blanchard, at 5-foot-4 and 140 pounds. He’d “corner” her in a hallway and scream at her so often that she frequently hit the hospital’s “Code Green” alarm to call for security to get him away from her.
“He would corner her and get very aggressive and try to intimidate her,” said a person who worked at the hospital during the months of harassment. “Even with her small stature and high pitched voice, she’s someone who’s not easily intimidated, but it would get to where he was standing too close, berating her,” the person said, describing incidents that happened almost weekly. The person spoke anonymously because of the pending Army investigation into the attack.
But two rounds of Army medical supervisors at the hospital ignored her concerns, telling her she simply needed to have another person with her when she counseled Currie, a poor-performing junior government civil servant.
First, she said, she complained to Col. John Kent, who was in charge of the facility, and then to his successor, Col. David M. Cassella, who was there for only a month before the incident.
“Come to me with facts not emotion,” Cassella’s aide Lt. Col. Matthew Fandre told her and another woman officer, she said. They were complaining that his behavior was escalating—becoming more hostile and more belligerent. She had an armload of paperwork she’d filed on Currie’s poor performance and multiple threats. Fandre didn’t want to look at it.
A week later, Currie attacked her.
The Army did not immediately respond with a comment for the article, but an Army investigating officer told Blanchard that they would now look into the case.
Blanchard’s lawyer Will Helixon said that the case prosecutor Kim Flannigan had asked the Army to delay their investigation until the federal case wrapped up. Flannigan did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.
“We are fully cooperating with the pending Army investigation and looking for answers as to why 1LT Blanchard’s repeated reports to her U.S. Army supervisors that Mr. Currie was a threat to her, and her requests for a safety plan were ignored,” Helixon said. “Although barred by the Feres Doctrine from recovering damages from the Army for failure to provide a safe workplace, we will do everything we can to prevent this from happening to anyone else in the future.”
Blanchard had planned a lifelong military career, like her husband, mother, father, grandfather, and uncles, but that’s in ruins. The mother of three young children has grafts on most of her face and upper body, and the rest of her skin—across every other part of her body including her scalp—has been scraped for donor skin to cover the burns.
“I’m thankful that he’s going away. But there’s no justice,” she said. “Not enough to replace what I’ve lost.”