A couple of months ago, we wrote about Army Spc. Derrick Kirkland, who hung himself last March after coming back from Iraq. A group of soldiers in his battalion claimed that Kirkland's suicide followed taunting from his sergeant, prompting a statement by a Joint Base Lewis-McChord spokesperson that such alleged mistreatment was never brought up by the late soldier's family. But Kirkland's mother, Mary, now tells SW that she "raised questions from day one"--and has gotten some disturbing answers.
Speaking by phone from Indianapolis, where she lives, Mary says those were "three opportunities that [the Army] had to save him," all of which it blew.
The first time Kirkland tried to commit suicide was in Iraq, according to an investigation report read to SW by Mary. On February 10, 2010, Kirkland stuck a gun in his mouth but was interrupted by a fellow soldier. The Army sent him to a psychiatric unit at Camp Liberty near Baghdad, where he again tried to kill himself, this time by overdosing on medication.
On March 13, he arrived at Madigan Army Medical Center at Lewis-McChord. Two days later, the psychiatric unit where he was staying released him. "Spc. Kirkland did not require any further supervision," the investigation report says, noting also that he was "deemed as a low-moderate risk."
This assessment followed not only two suicide attempts but visible evidence of Kirkland's depression, Mary notes. Her 5'6'' son at that point weighed only 110 pounds, according to the documents. She says she wished the Army had assigned a buddy to Kirkland who could have watched over him. Instead, Kirkland moved into his own barracks room.
Three days after he did so, he sliced his arms and took "an excessive amount of pills" while drinking alcohol, the investigation report says. Somehow he survived all that and bandaged himself up. He appeared for the routine morning formation the next day, where apparently no one noticed anything amiss. The very next night, he took a white nylon rope and finally achieved what he had set out to do so many times before.
Mary says she was woken with the news at 6:30 a.m. on March 21. "I thought he was still in the hospital," Mary says.
Army spokespeople could not be immediately reached for comment.