The grieving family of an Army soldier who died while training in South Carolina to become a drill sergeant say he was denied the right to see his body following an autopsy.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jaime Contreras, 40, was found unconscious on June 12 during a land navigation course, nearly 10 hours after officials at the US Army Training Center and Fort Jackson announced he was missing.
It was located about 54 meters – or 164 feet – from the course in an area that Fort Jackson officials say features “unforgiving terrain.”
Army officials insist he did not die of anything nefarious, but the cause of Contreras’s deviation from course and resulting death has yet to be determined. revealed by federal investigators.
His family in Flagstaff, Arizona, said they were not allowed to see his remains and had to bury the father-of-five under sheets obscuring his body.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jaime Contreras, 40, was found unconscious on June 12 while taking a land navigation course at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
His mother Thelma Gomez has now said she was not allowed to see her son’s body after an autopsy
Contreras’ mother, Thelma Gomez, said WIS TV that she and other family members were denied the opportunity to see her son’s body on June 15 – leaving them with more questions than answers.
“Why is the body invisible? ” she asked. “So that I don’t, in turn, go into the dark and make speculations and assumptions that I don’t want to make, I would like to know why,” she said.
Gomez said she originally planned to have an open casket for Contreras’ funeral, but according to Army policies, he will now be wrapped from head to toe in opaque bandages and placed under a blanket or blanket. fabric.
The selected Gomez uniform will then be placed on the shaders.
She described her son as a devoted father who was committed to his service in the US military, saying he enjoyed his time as a non-commissioned officer at Fort Liberty (formerly Fort Bragg) in North Carolina, where he worked in food operations.
Contreras had served for 12 years, including a stint in which he was deployed to Afghanistan.
Gomez insisted she follows army procedures, saying her brother, Armando Cespedes, also served in the army for 25 years before retiring.
“He dedicated his life to the military,” she said. “My son was giving himself up, and I guess you could say he gave his life to the military.
“So I follow their procedures, but I don’t know their procedures.”
Cespedes also said, “We tried to get answers and we got sidelined.” I feel like my army let me down.
Contreras’ sister told the South Carolina news station that with no answers about her death “we have to speculate or fill in the holes ourselves.” And that only makes this grieving process more difficult.
‘Jaime deserves better.’
Contreras’ family said he was left with more questions than answers as an inquest continues into his death
Gomez said she followed army procedures, noting that her brother, Armando Cespedes, also served in the army for 25 years before retiring. But, she said, she don’t know army procedures
Contreras was found 10 hours after being reported missing in an area that Fort Jackson officials say presents ‘unforgiving terrain’
Fort Jackson officials said Contreras is in week eight of a 10-week training program for drill sergeants.
He was one of about 90 trainees sent on individual missions on June 12 to find various spots in a 1,500-acre wooded course.
Contreras started the exercise around 10 a.m. and was due back around 1 p.m.
As per procedure, army officials waited about an hour to search for the soldier when he did not return, then called a number of civilian agencies to help with the search.
An investigation into his death is ongoing, with Army Criminal Investigation Division officials saying it could take weeks.
Contreras was engaged to Erin Kern at the time of her death, and the two had recently purchased a home in North Carolina.
A GoFundMe was created to support his fiancée whom he was to marry upon graduation from the program
Contreras’ fiancée, Erin Kern, said Contreras described training for USADA as tedious and difficult, but said he was proud to be a candidate and was keen to graduate.
The two had planned to get married after graduating from the program and had already purchased a marriage proposal and two personalized wedding bands.
‘I didn’t just lose Jaime. I lost everything we worked for,’ she said WIS TV in a separate interview.
“I’m just the bride. I don’t think I will be able to live in this house we bought together. Our projects and our dreams left with him.
Contreras and Kern had purchased their home in Roseboro, North Carolina just a year prior and reportedly built their dream home.
“Jaime was my whole world,” Kern said in a statement. “He was telling me I was his peace and comfort, but he was everyone’s peace and comfort.”
She described him as ‘a born carer’ who was ‘incredibly funny and so loving’ with ‘the biggest heart’.
“He loved hiking with his kids and exploring new places, he loved cooking with me, and found pleasure in watching horrible movies,” Kern continued.
“We spent a lot of time renovating our new house and dreaming about the future. Home is where the heart is.
A GoFundMe has now been set up to help Kern keep the house and pay her and Contreras’ bills, with the friend who started the online fundraiser saying: ‘I know Jaime would be devastated to see her lose the house that they created together.”