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Army investigates teenage girl’s death at Fort Lewis base

Wed., Feb. 18, 2009

Another teen, found unconscious, is recovering

FORT LEWIS, Wash. – A 16-year-old girl found unconscious at a Fort Lewis barracks is getting better, and investigators are looking to her to explain the circumstances of another teen’s death over the weekend, an Army spokesman said Tuesday.

“Once she is in a state that she can be interviewed by the Criminal Investigation Division, I’m sure the investigators will do so to gather the facts about what the girls were doing on post,” spokesman Joe Piek said.

The two 16-year-old girls were found at a barracks – one passed out, one dead at the scene – at 3:30 a.m. Sunday, with no outward signs of trauma. The girl who was unconscious was in “stable and improving” condition at Madigan Army Medical Center, Piek said. An autopsy on the dead girl has been completed but results are not expected for at least a week.

Investigators have questioned a soldier acquainted with the girls, but Piek said there was no immediate explanation for what they were doing when emergency responders answered a 911 call.

The identities of both girls were withheld, but both are from the south Puget Sound area and are not military dependents.

The girl who died attended Lakes High School for her freshman year last year. She dropped out to take online courses last fall, at the beginning of her sophomore year, but re-enrolled at the school earlier this month, said Kim Prentice, a spokeswoman for the Clover Park School District.

Prentice said she did not believe the other girl was enrolled in the district.

Piek said one part of the investigation will focus on the base’s policies for allowing civilian visitors on post and for guests at barracks. No overnight visitors are allowed in the barracks, and authorized visitors must leave by 2 a.m. on weekends.

More critically, any minors who aren’t a member of their host’s immediate family must be accompanied in the barracks by a parent or guardian.

Anyone with a valid Department of Defense identification is allowed to escort a civilian – even an unrelated minor – onto the base. Piek said that policy is under review. The Army wants to know what the girls were doing in the barracks and whether drugs or alcohol were involved.

“To what extent these policies were followed will be a subject of the ongoing investigation,” Piek said.

The manager of a dry-cleaning store near Fort Lewis told the Seattle Times she often sees teenage girls approach young soldiers at a parking lot across the street from her shop and ask for rides onto the base.

“It’s easy for them to get on the post. It happens all the time,” Plaza Cleaners manager Maria Dibbens said. “They want to get on base and see the young GIs.”

The Army initially issued a statement about the girls Monday afternoon, about 36 hours after the 911 call. Piek said it took the Army until then because the events took place during a holiday weekend and gathering information took time.

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