Thursday, October 4, 2007

Ghosts in the Wind (Case File #9): How Did Specialist Ciara Durkin Die?

One Soldier's Death
October 03, 2007

The family of a Massachusetts National Guard member who died in Afghanistan last week is questioning the circumstances of her death.

The Army says Ciara Durkin was found with a single bullet in her head lying near a church where she worshipped on the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Her sister says Ciara told her relatives to investigate if anything happened to her while she was deployed. ...
Soldier In Finance Unit At Bagram Air Base Said To Have "Discovered Things" Is Found Dead

Military Death Questioned
BOSTON, Oct. 4, 2007

The family of Ciara Durkin, who was killed under suspicious circumstances while on deployment in Afghanistan, is demanding answers from high-ranking military officials. Kelly Wallace reports.

(CBS/AP) Exactly how Ciara Durkin died remains a mystery. The Army National Guard soldier from Massachusetts was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head in Afghanistan last week, and now her family is demanding answers from the military.

Initially the Pentagon reported that Durkin, part of a finance unit deployed to Afghanistan in November 2006, had been killed in action, but then revised its statement to read she had died of injuries "suffered from a non-combat related incident" at Bagram Airfield. The statement had no specifics and said the circumstances are under investigation.

Durkin had a desk job doing payroll in an office about three miles inside the secure Bagram Air Base. About 90 minutes after she left work last Friday, her family says she was found dead near a chapel on the base with a single gunshot wound to the head.

The 30-year-old soldier, who was born in Ireland and came to the U.S. as a little girl, felt safer deployed in Afghanistan over Iraq, her family told CBS News correspondent Kelly Wallace. Yet she was found dead within a highly secure base, with few answers.

"The family has been informed that she was in the compound, and she was shot in the head," Durkin's sister, Fiona Canavan, told the Boston Globe. "She was in a secure area of the compound, which, even though the investigation is not complete, leads the family to believe it was what is called friendly fire," she said.

Adding to the mystery is something the Army Specialist told her family: if something happened to her in Afghanistan, they should look into it. She was concerned about things she was seeing over there, one of her eight brothers and sisters said in an interview.

Canavan told the Quincy, Mass. Patriot Ledger on Wednesday that when her sister was home three weeks ago, she told her about something she had come across that raised some concern with her: "She was in the finance unit and she said, 'I discovered some things I don’t like and I made some enemies because of it.'"

Canavan revealed that Durkin said if anything happened to her, to make sure it was investigated.

"At the time we thought it was said more as a joke," Canavan told the paper.

The family is also wondering whether Durkin's sexual orientation - she was gay - played a role in her death.

"We just want full disclosure, that's all we want - to know what happened to our sister," Diedre Durkin said.

Massachusetts Senators Ted Kennedy and John Kerry and Rep. William Delahunt are pressing for answers.

We just want full disclosure, that's all we want — to know what happened to our sister.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Kerry said the circumstances need to be uncovered expeditiously and thoroughly.

Durkin's extended family has also asked for help from the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs.

The family doubts suicide, pointing to an upbeat "Happy Birthday" voicemail Durkin left for her brother just hours before she died.

"I thought it was cute at the time," Pierce Durkin said. "Now it's priceless."

The family's grief, made more torturous by the limited information being released and rumors, is not helped by remembrances of past instances where misinformation followed the deaths or injuries of service members.

The military initially said Army Ranger Pat Tillman was killed in an enemy firefight in Afghanistan in 2004, even after evidence came to light that he had been killed by friendly fire.

There were also reports circulated that captured Army pfc. Jessica Lynch had bravely fired upon insurgents after being wounded, though she testified later that that was not so.

Sgt. Patrick McCaffrey and 1st Lt. Andre Tyson, killed in Iraq in 2004, were first reported to have been killed in an insurgent ambush, when they were actually killed by two Iraqi soldiers they were training.

© MMVII, CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Mystery surrounds death of soldier - Quincy woman is called a noncombat casualty

By Noah Bierman
Boston Globe
October 2, 2007

The Massachusetts National Guard soldier from Quincy who died in Afghanistan Friday was found with a single bullet in her head lying near her church on a secure military base, her family said yesterday after a briefing from Army officials.

The Department of Defense said in a statement yesterday that Ciara Durkin's injuries came from a "non-combat related incident" that is under investigation. The statement contradicts a Sunday statement from the Massachusetts Army National Guard that said Durkin, an Army specialist, was killed in action. A guard spokesman said the term was meant to imply that Durkin was deployed in Afghanistan at the time of her death.

"We're completely in the dark," said Pierce Durkin, the soldier's 28-year-old brother. "Patience is probably dissipating."

Family members, who are pushing for more information from Army officials, are girding for the possibility that Ciara (pronounced Kee-ra) Durkin was killed by a fellow service member, intentionally or accidentally, at the Bagram Airfield. They said they are confident that she did not commit suicide.

"The family has been going over this several times," Pierce Durkin said.

"There is nothing to indicate that it could have possibly been self-inflicted."

The unusual case is drawing intense interest from Ireland, where Durkin, 30, and most of her family were born and where three siblings live. Her family is appealing to the Irish government, in addition to American congressmen, for additional help in clearing up the details of her death. A US Central Command spokesman in Afghanistan, reached by telephone yesterday, did not provide further details to a reporter.

Pierce Durkin said his family is hoping that the military will "speed up and that they will deliver a very thorough and very honest and very fact-based and sincere report."

Inconsistent stories surrounding the injury to Army Private Jessica Lynch and the death of former professional football player-turned-Army Ranger Pat Tillman have increased the family's skepticism, Durkin said.

"We understand that military relations are so much connected to public relations concerns," he said. "Therefore, if it was something that was unfavorable it would be handled from a public relations mindset not a principled one."

The vast majority of deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan have been combat-related. The US military reported yesterday that 3,100 of 3,799 deaths in Iraq and 252 of 438 deaths in Afghanistan were classified as combat deaths.

Deaths listed by the military as nonhostile include injuries from car crashes and other logistical accidents, as well as suicides. Durkin's unit, which handled financial accounts on the base, was not involved in combat.

Shooting deaths on a secure base are "very, very rare," said Ted Oelstrom, a retired lieutenant general who directs the National Security Program at Harvard's Kennedy School. "There has been probably a handful of these incidents over time."

Pierce Durkin was the last member of his family to hear from his sister. She left him a birthday greeting on his voicemail at 1 a.m. Friday.

"She was saying, 'Pierce, I love you. I can't wait to see you.' And she started singing 'Happy Birthday,' " he said.

The siblings were close, the two youngest in a family of nine children. When she was on leave in Quincy for two weeks last month, she and her brother made plans to pool their money to buy a home so they could quit paying rent. She wanted to go to school to study information technology or finance, her brother said.

"I don't think anyone could have gone from such a jovial mood on the 14th [of September] to such a 180" degree turn toward suicide, Pierce Durkin said.

Ciara Durkin may have been on her way to or from church when she was killed, according to her sister Fiona Canavan. Military officials told the family she was nearby when she was found.

"We know they had very frequent concerns about snipers over there," Canavan said. "But she was in a secure area . . . which, even though the investigation is not complete, leads the family to believe it was what is called 'friendly fire.' "

Military officials told Durkin family members the investigation could take as long as eight weeks.

Durkin's wake will take place from 4-9 p.m. Friday at the Dennis Sweeney Funeral Home in Quincy. Her funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Quincy.

Noah Bierman can be reached at

© Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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