The results of an internal US Marine Corps investigation into a suicide of one of their Marines were withheld from his family for an “unacceptably long time”, with the report also pointing to potential unit issues concerning drugs and a hostile work environment.
22-year-old Corporal Jonathan M. Gee committed suicide by hanging on August 29 of last year, following a night of hard partying near his duty station at the Pentagon. According to the investigation, he and another Marine had been kicked out of a nightclub hours earlier after being caught using cocaine in the bathroom.
While the findings of the investigation were completed in January of 2016, the release was delayed after being sent from Gee’s unit at the Headquarters and Service Battalion for Marine Corps headquarters to Marine Lawyers in Quantico, Virginia, according to a letter sent to Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. While the reports were approved in May by commanding officer Colonel Joseph Murray, the Gee family did not receive the results until September.
“The review and endorsed investigation should have been forwarded to our Casualty Branch so they could notify the family that the investigation was available upon request,” read a letter to McCaskill from Colonel Andrew M. Regan, Gee’s Battalion Commander. “High personnel turnover during this period contributed to the inexcusable delay in forwarding the investigation to the Casualty Branch.”
Regan also noted that the investigation was delayed by required autopsy and toxicology reports, which revealed that Gee had mixed alcohol with several prescribed drugs that cause suicidal thoughts when interacting with the recreational substance.
US Marine Spokesman Major Clark Carpenter says that the delays were not intentional.
“We remain committed to providing the maximum amount of transparency, even in tragic situations like this,” he said.
To add insult to injury, Gee’s family was plagued with issues concerning his burial, including an uncertain timeframe of when his body would arrive and the misspelling of his first name as “Jonathon” on his transfer case.
“Have some respect, you know? We just lost a family member,” bereaved elder sister Janele Riggs said in an interview. “Don’t spell his name wrong. It was just so frustrating.”
The USMC has only recently become aware of the error, with Major Carpenter saying it was “deeply regrettable.”
An anonymous Marine official told the Washington Post that the mortician had no reference to work on due to the sensitivity of the case and thus “had no means to identify the spelling error prior to delivery of the remains to the family.”
Meanwhile, McCaskill has spoken up about the issue, saying the Marines have vowed to address her concerns.
“The Gees have gone through more than any family should in the wake of their son’s death last year,” she said. “Compounding their grief were a lack of transparency and extended delays from the Marine Corps that were unacceptable and avoidable. The Gees- and any family with loved ones who sign up to serve this country- need and deserve answers in a timely fashion.”
Gee worked in the support section for Lieutenant General James B. Laster and primarily wrote condolence letters for families of deceased Marines.
The investigating officer of the suicide determined that there was no single factor that drove Gee to kill himself and that there were plenty of chances for an intervention. Worse, the investigator concluded that “Headquarters and Service Battalion…may face a drug problem,” citing the fact that “Corporal Gee was able to hide his sustained drug use from the command.”
Verily, other Marines admitted to knowing about Gee’s drug use and did nothing to intervene.
Sporting a bracelet that said “Where’s Molly” the night he died (a reference to the drug ecstasy), Many Marines admitted to going to the kinds of rave parties Gee attended, but could not be definitively tied to drug use themselves. The fact that Marines knew about Gee’s drug use and made no attempt at intervention is something one commanding officer found “most disturbing.”
Director of the Marine and Family Division Major General Burke Whitman said the service has launched several programs to curb suicide, including the Marine Intercept Program of 2013.
According to Whitman, around 46-59 Marines have killed themselves every year since 2012.
“It’s a constant drumbeat, and it will continue to be,” Whitman said of preventing suicide. “This is not a job. This is our family, and we take that very seriously.”
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