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Former CO: The shooter is responsible

Dec. 3, 2013 - 01:13PM   |  
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Col. Kris Stillings, the former commander of Officer Candidates School in Quantico, Va. (Mike Morones / Staff)
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Editor’s note:
Col. Kris Stillings, the former commander of Officer Candidates School in Quantico, Va., submitted this statement to Marine Corps Times regarding the investigation into the March 21 murder-suicide at OCS that left three Marines dead. He requested it be published in full. Stillings was removed from command of OCS in April and now is assigned to the Secretary of the Navy Council of Review Boards at the Washington Navy Yard.

I was greatly saddened to see the results of the command investigation into the shootings at OCS. The fact that a small number of Marines either failed to perform their assigned duties or chose to disregard rules and regulations that they knew full well they had an obligation to uphold is upsetting. I was in command at the time of the shootings and accept full responsibility for the actions of these Marines. Unfortunately, these types of violations exist in every unit in the Corps but they did not indicate any kind of loss of institutional control at OCS. Violations of any kind, once substantiated, were met with swift and appropriate punishment to include Marines receiving NJP for failure to register personal weapons and fraternization. Furthermore, the actions of these Marines do not represent the true and honorable nature of the vast majority of OCS Marines — nor does it in any way account for the horrible individual actions of the shooter. There was never any kind of documented command climate problem at OCS, and in fact, the very tools used by the Marine Corps for assessing the health of the unit said OCS was a fit, well-run, highly disciplined outfit. To make a cause-and-effect relationship between a small number of violations of regulations or the well-documented positive command climate at OCS and the most horrendous act a human being can commit, murder of innocent people and suicide, is simply wrong. The one who is responsible for these actions is the shooter.

As to the shooter having TBI and PTSD — the Marine was assigned to OCS from Camp Lejeune, N.C. When he arrived he was fit for full duty or the mental health professionals at Camp Lejeune would not have sent him to OCS and he was still fit for full duty up to the date of the event. I fully agree that there should have been a medical hand off between Lejeune and Quantico as the tracking of concussive injuries is very important, but OCS was never made aware of his TBI injury by him or anyone else. To my knowledge he was never diagnosed with PTSD and conclusions as to if he had PTSD on the date of the shooting are non-medical speculation. Yes, something went wrong as no one commits an act like this without having issues, but the fact is that we will never know why — the truth went to the grave with him.

For once, why don’t we call it what it is: A young Marine murdered two people and killed himself. He is responsible. Yes it is extremely sad and we must do everything we can to not let this happen again as three young people are dead, families in ruins and careers are destroyed. We have to learn what we can from this horrible event and institutionalize the lessons for the betterment of our Corps as this tragic event is a part of our society’s larger problem of gun violence and mental health issues. But the continued public discourse on who is to blame now only hurts the families involved and the unit.

I will leave you with the words of the commanding general from his endorsement of the investigation. “Notwithstanding the investigating officer’s findings regarding the command climate, medical treatment, force preservation and command policies, the murder suicide in this case was not reasonably foreseeable by any individual or command. This conclusion does not otherwise relieve anyone for individual or collective failings identified in the report, but it cannot be concluded from the facts and circumstances that any of the variables, together or separate, were a direct or indirect causal factor in this tragic event.”

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