Fort Bragg Families Look for Distress Signals

ByABC News via logo

Aug. 1, 2002 -- As Army officials at Fort Bragg, N.C., look deeper into a series of domestic slayings at the base, the families of the military spouses who were victims are wondering what went wrong, and whether signals of trouble were missed.

Joan Shannon, the 35-year-old wife of an Army special operations officer has been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of her husband, Maj. David Shannon, 40.

Joan Shannon could be heard screaming in what seemed like a desperate 911 call for help on the night of July 23.

Operator: "This is 911, we just received a call from there, is everything OK?"

Joan Shannon: "I need an ambulance …"

Operator: "What?"

Shannon: "I need an ambulance here, I need the police here now."

Operator: "Ok, what do you need a police officer for?"

Shannon: "Somebody shot my husband."

Police say Shannon's call was a lie. They say financial gain was one of the primary motives in the slaying — just the latest in a string of domestic-related killings on the base.

In the course of six weeks, between June 11 and July 23, four Army soldiers from the base allegedly killed their wives. Two of the men killed themselves.

Three of the men were special operations soldiers who had recently returned from Afghanistan. It has raised the question: Is the military doing enough to smooth the soldiers' transition to civilian life?

Col. Tad. Davis, the Fort Bragg garrison commander and the chairman of Fort Bragg's Family Advocacy Program, said Tuesday that the base offers a full range of counseling services and is working to get to the bottom of what happened in each of the killings.

"What I can tell you is that we have a wide range of programs that contain training and counseling for both our soldiers and their spouses," Davis told Good Morning America. "I can assure you that we take our responsibilities here very seriously."

After hearing Davis' comments on GMA, dozens of women from Fort Bragg reached out to a local reporter who has been closely covering the story for the Fayetteville Observer.

Tanya Biank, the military affairs reporter for the Observer, told GMA that many women from Fort Bragg said help is hard to find on the base.

"I received a lot of phone calls from wives who had very different experiences when they had reported abuse through their chain of commands," Biank said. "One woman in particular was physically abused by her husband, and she said that she did report this to military officials and that she was never taken seriously," she said.

Tales of Sorrow

One of the victims, 32-year-old Jennifer Wright, was allegedly strangled by her husband, Army Special Forces Master Sgt. William Wright, who had just returned from the Afghanistan front, police said. Investigators reported that after the July 19 killing, he allegedly wrapped his wife's body in a parachute bag, then buried it in a shallow grave.

Archie Watson, Jennifer Wright's father, told Good Morning America on Monday that he didn't see any signs that his son-in-law was violent, but said stress was certainly bubbling beneath the surface since his return from Afghanistan in May. Wright had spent time in many of the war's hot spots.

"It seemed like it changed him, but he kind of kept it hid," Watson said. "He didn't want his boys to see it."

His son-in-law sought counseling and legal help in connection with his marriage, but did not get any help from the military, Watson said.

"I do know Bill asked for help three times on an e-mail, and he wasn't given any help," he said.

A Cry for Help?

The review into the killings at the base will include looking into whether William Wright sought help and whether he didn't receive any, Davis said.

"If we find things like that may be out there, those are things that we need to roll back into our programs to make them even better than they are right now," Davis said.

He acknowledged that soldiers who perform duties in combat zones have extra stress, as do their loved ones.

"Life on planet Earth is very stressful and you add on top of that military life, and soldiers moving in harm's way in a combat zone adds to the stress not only on the soldiers but also their families back here at Fort Bragg," Davis said. "And so as we work through our programs, we will try to identify what the points of stress are, what those points of friction are in the lives of these families, in order to determine what programs may benefit them."

Leroy Zeigler, the father Andrea Floyd, said that the special operations unit seemed particularly affected by the stresses of war, and that the Army should be doing more to address problems within its elite forces. Police say that Floyd's husband, Brandon, shot her with a handgun, then killed himself. He was a sergeant first class in in the army special forces.

"Well, I'm sure the training that these gentlemen are receiving is vigorous enough as it is. When they come home, I just think they need to de-program these fellows because there's a lot of violence that's going on when these guys are getting home," Ziegler said. "So I think they really need to look into this."

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