Fort Bragg Killings

ByABC News

Sept. 13, 2002 -- In Fayetteville, N.C., Lt. Sam Pennica is thinking back to the beginning of this town's bloody summer — when the killings began.

"One thing that … we found sort of strange that was common, they all occurred in the bedroom," Pennica said.

In a brief, six-week stretch, four women were killed. All four were mothers married to soldiers stationed at the Fort Bragg Army base in Fayetteville. Some of the killings were especially brutal — the kind of sustained assaults that criminal profilers refer to as overkill. All four were allegedly killed by their husbands.

The string of Fort Bragg tragedies began June 11, when Sgt. Rigoberto Nieves, a Green Beret, allegedly shot and killed his 28-year-old wife and then himself.

Just a few weeks later, on July 1, Master Sgt. William Wright reported his wife, Jennifer, missing.

However, Jennifer's father, Archie Watson, was suspicious.

Watson said before Jennifer vanished she had told him she was worried about her husband. "She said that she was getting where she was scared of him. After he came back from Afghanistan … He seemed like … his temper would just explode, over nothing," Watson said his daughter had told him.

Wright's neighbor Betty Clark said she had noticed something unusual about the soldier after his wife's disappearance. "He lost weight, and he was very nervous, very agitated," Clark said.

Wright had requested to return from his tour of duty in Afghanistan early so he could work out problems in his marriage. However, police say not long after his return Wright struck Jennifer in the head with a baseball bat and then strangled her to death.

Police say Wright's claim that his wife had run out on him didn't hold up.

As the Wright investigation was under way, another Fort Bragg soldier, Sgt. Cedric Griffin, allegedly killed his wife, Marilyn, on July 9 by stabbing her more than 70 times.

Police now were investigating the slayings of two women and looking for a third. They got a break in the Wright case on July 19 when Wright led police to his wife's body. Jennifer's body had been folded and placed into a kit bag, or parachute recovery bag, and was buried in sandy soil off a roadside, according to Pennica.

As Pennica and his team were recovering Jennifer Wright's body, they received a call telling them to head over to the home of Brandon Floyd.

There, police found Floyd, a member of the elite Delta Force, and his wife, Andrea, dead. Police say Floyd shot his wife before turning the gun on himself.

Did Military Stress Push Soldiers Over the Edge?

The string of killings that struck the Fort Bragg community left investigators looking for a connection. All four of the men had training in dealing with the stresses of being deployed, of engaging in combat, even killing on the battlefield. After the killings, some in the community were questioning whether the soldiers had received enough training on the stresses of coming home.

The bulk of the special forces deployed in Afghanistan came from Fort Bragg, and three of the men alleged to have killed their wives had returned from duty in Afghanistan.

"If a guy has … just been at the war zone … he's having increased irritability … The irritability can make it harder to keep a lid on some other impulsivity," said Dr. Andy Morgan, an associate professor of psychiatry at Yale University's School of Medicine.

Morgan, who has been studying the effects of war on soldiers, said couples can encounter stresses on their relationships when they are separated and that after deployments, the soldiers and their spouses have to work at becoming intimate with one another again.

That appears to have played a role in the marital problems the Wrights were having, according to friends and family. Friends say Wright suspected that his wife was seeing a man from their church.

A Culture That Deters Counseling

Some civilians may look at the Fort Bragg slayings and wonder whether the special forces soldiers were trained to be killing machines during war and needed to be told how to turn off the switch after they left the battlefield.

The military provides counseling for soldiers and their families, but some soldiers say they feel hesitant to seek help for personal or psychological problems.

"You have to be careful because you don't want to admit that you don't have things under control. Because that is part of the culture," said "Joe", a former special operations lieutenant colonel who agreed to talk with ABCNEWS only if his identity was protected.

"Joe" says the nation's most elite warriors don't always want to take their problems to outsiders. "If they are ultimately able to go to a chaplain, or a unit psychologist, or something, I think they'd be a bit concerned about how that'd be perceived," he said.

"There's actually a disincentive" for soldiers to seek mental health counseling, according to Morgan. He noted that soldiers' security clearance can be reduced if they're seeing a mental health professional.

Did Anti-Malaria Drug Play a Role?

Some believe there is a factor that may be behind the sudden rash of killings that has not been fully investigated. All of the men who served in Afghanistan were reportedly given an Army-issued drug to prevent malaria. The drug is called Lariam and some soldiers who have taken it have experienced serious side effects.

Anxiousness, vivid nightmares and night sweats were among the symptoms that former Green Beret medic John Lown experienced with Lariam. Apparently, Lown was not the only person to have a negative experience with the drug. His wife, Deborah, says she was told by other Army wives that their husbands have experienced similar symptoms.

Deborah Lown was so concerned about her husband's health that she brought her concerns to the Army in 1996. Eventually the Army listed the potential side effects of Lariam on a Web site for servicemen.

"This medication may have effects, seriously effect your personality, your depression, … your aggression," said John Lown.

Hoffman-LaRoche lists adverse effects in the drug's insert saying some users had reported symptoms ranging from "depression … [to] psychotic or paranoid reactions, anxiety … [and] aggression." And just last July, new information to the drug's warning label states "rare cases of … suicide have been reported though no relationship to [the] drug … has been confirmed."

The company also told us that 25 million people over the past 17 years have used the drug, with few reporting side effects.

At the end of August, the Pentagon announced that it would send a team to study depression among soldiers serving in Afghanistan. A team of psychiatrists, chaplains, and medical professionals also has visited Fort Bragg to help find a pattern and a possible reason behind the killings.

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