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Investigation into Quantico murder-suicide reveals barracks security failures

Nov. 25, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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From left: Cpl. Jacob Wooley, Lance Cpl. Sara Castromata and Sgt. Eusebio Lopez (Marine Corps)
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A newly released command investigation into a shooting that left three Marines dead at the Officer Candidates School in Quantico, Va., earlier this year shows the Marine shooter suffered from the effects of a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress. Also, lax enforcement of weapons regulations and security protocols at the barracks facility where the shooting occurred put many Marines at risk.

Late at night on March 21, 2013, Sgt. Eusebio Lopez, 25, a tactics instructor at OCS, gunned down two fellow Marines: Lance Cpl. Sara Castromata, 19, a warehouse clerk, and Cpl. Jacob Wooley, 23, a field radio operator. Lopez then shot himself in the head.

The July 12 command investigation, obtained by Marine Corps Times through a Freedom of Information Act request, reveals that Lopez suffered a head injury when his vehicle struck an improvised explosive device during a 2011 deployment to Afghanistan, which left him with a mild traumatic brain injury, persistent back pain and an altered, more irritable demeanor.

While Lopez was treated for his injuries, his care was concluded in April 2012, a few months before a domestic altercation in which he threatened to harm himself or others. And when Lopez transferred from Camp Lejeune, N.C., to Quantico on military orders in June 2012, the investigation found that his mental health case information was not adequately transferred to his new station.

The probe also found that Lopez was never asked about his personal weapons when he moved from off-base housing in Virginia to a barracks room in Quantico, in violation of base firearms policy. He never registered any weapons with the base, an installation requirement.

On March 21, the day of the shooting, Lopez sent at least two dozen text messages with suicidal overtones to Castromata, who had ended a romantic relationship with him a few weeks before. Castromata and Wooley were dating at the time of the shooting.

“There is no love where im going,” read one of the messages. “U could have saved me,” read another.

Around 10 p.m. March 21, a Marine in his barracks room heard Wooley, who had emerged from Castromata’s barracks room, verbally confront an unknown individual. Then the Marine heard five or six gunshots. After Lopez shot Wooley, he entered Castromata’s room and shot her, according to the investigation report.

When an individual, whose identity is redacted in the report, came near the scene of the murders, Lopez emerged from the room, waved a gun at the individual, and said “go away, get out of here right now.”

He shot himself in Castromata’s room soon afterward.

The investigation found there were no specific instructions provided to the school’s officer on duty regarding an active shooter incident. A military special response team, summoned by 911 calls following the gunshots, found Wooley’s body right away, but it took nearly four hours for responders to discover the bodies of the other two Marines.

The investigation concluded with 32 recommendations, 12 of which are designed to help the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery review possible systematic flaws that may have led to Lopez’s breakdown and prevent future incidents. The report also recommends that OCS review and update all orders, directives and procedures related to barracks management, weapons possession and storage, standing duty, alcohol possession and consumption, and barracks security, among other topics. Lopez’s alcohol consumption was determined to be a factor in the tragic shooting.

The report also recommends punishment or relief for cause for at least 11 personnel, including then-OCS commanding officer Col. Kris Stillings, related to failure to properly perform their duties in relation to the shooting.

Stillings was relieved of command shortly following the incident. It’s not clear if the others, whose names and titles were redacted, also faced punitive actions.

In the wake of the shooting, and other incidents involving unauthorized use of personal weapons on base, the head of Marine Corps Installations Command, Maj. Gen. Juan Ayala, ordered a review of how personal weapons policies in the National Capitol Region were enforced. And many of the tenets of commandant Gen. Jim Amos’s recent “reawakening” campaign pertain to barracks management and security, including more officers patrolling the barracks, fewer distractions for Marines standing duty, and surveillance cameras at each facility.

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