McLEAN, Va. (AP) – A distraught Marine who fatally shot his ex-girlfriend and a colleague before killing himself at the Quantico Marine Corps base was suicidal, had signs of traumatic brain injury and should have received better psychological care, a military investigation found.
Sgt. Eusebio Lopez was receiving treatment in North Carolina after his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device in Iraq, but his medical care stopped abruptly when he was transferred to Quantico in 2012, according to a report obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The reason appeared to be two-fold: His new doctors didn’t know about his previous treatment and he didn’t speak up.
The report also found problems with the response to the shooting because unarmed Marines were deployed to secure the perimeter around the barracks. Two of the bodies were not found until nearly four hours after the shots were fired.
Lopez shot Lance Cpl. Sara Castromata, 19, and Cpl. Jacob Wooley, 23, inside a barracks at the Officer Candidates School after a night of drinking. Lopez was upset Castromata had ended a relationship with him and had begun dating Wooley, according to the report obtained Thursday.
The day of the shooting, Lopez sent numerous despondent text messages to Castromata, including “See u on the other side sara im out” and “U could have saved me.”
The report found Lopez’s problems began on a 2007 deployment to Iraq, when he was inches away from stepping on a homemade bomb. It worsened after a stint in Afghanistan in 2011, when he was a passenger on a vehicle struck by a roadside bomb. He was diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury and post-concussion syndrome. The report also referenced symptoms related to post-traumatic stress disorder and said Lopez was going through a separation with his wife.
Lopez received treatment at a Concussion Recovery Center while stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, but the report indicates his medical records were not transferred to Quantico when he was reassigned.
“There should have been a conscientious and deliberate transfer of Sergeant Lopez’s medical case,” the investigating officer found.
Some of his mental health records were in a database available to Quantico, but not until several months after he arrived in June 2012. The investigation concluded Lopez’s mental health problems should have caused him to fail a screening he received in November 2012 to qualify for arms, ammunitions and explosives duty. At the time of the shootings, Lopez was a tactics instructor at the Officer Candidate School whose specialty was machine gunner.
The failure to carefully review his medical history in that screening was a missed opportunity, the investigation found.
The report also found that Lopez should not even have been eligible to live in the barracks where the shootings took place and he and other Marines regularly disregarded regulations that required Marines to register personal firearms and store them in the armory when on base. Lopez used his personal handgun in the shootings.
The Officer Candidates School “was functioning in a climate lacking accountability, cognizance of and adherence to orders and personal responsibility,” according to the report.
The biggest warning in the report, though, was a call for the Marine Corps to do more to treat Marines suffering from brain injuries.
“To address what is noticeable and evident may be the easy part, to address what sinks in and becomes seemingly invisible … is our greatest challenge,” wrote the investigating officer, a brigadier general whose name was redacted from the report. “We are getting pummeled by the `invisible wounds,’ and that tidal wave has not likely fully hit us yet.”
The investigating officer made disciplinary recommendations, but the specifics were also redacted. The commander of the Officer Candidate School, though, was relieved of his post a month after the shootings.
The general who received the report challenged some of its findings.
“Notwithstanding the investigating officer’s findings … the murder-suicide in this case was not reasonably foreseeable by individual or command,” Lt. Gen. Richard Mills wrote in August, when he was leading the Marine Corps Combat Development Command.
Wooley’s uncle, Thomas McGill of Corinth, Miss., said in a phone interview that to his knowledge, no one in the family had been provided with a copy of the report or told of its contents.
McGill said he was largely unmoved by the possibility that Lopez’s actions may have been different if he received better treatment.
“You can’t use that as an excuse,” McGill said.
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)