Marine accused of bullying kills herself.
First Class Petty Officer (PO) Jennifer Valdivia served as Kennel Master at the Military Working Dog (MWD) Unit at the US Base in Juffair from 2004 until her death in January 2007.
Ms Valdivia - then 27 - had been awarded the Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bahrain's 2005 Sailor of the Year award and was ranked as the number one First Class PO during annual performance evaluations.
However, new evidence contained within an internal US Navy report released on Tuesday suggests that Ms Valdivia had been relieved of her duties just days before her death after a number of sailors alleged that there was widespread hazing in her unit.
The 14-page report was released on American website youthradio.org on Tuesday, following the release of an earlier internal inquiry into alleged hazing within the unit on the base.
Dated May 29, 2007, the report explained that a 90-day investigation into Ms Valdivia's death had been co-ordinated after three extensions had been granted due to difficulties in obtaining witness interviews.
It noted that on September 26, 2006, the NSA's commanding officer directed an investigation into allegations arising from a disciplinary case, which involved a member of the MWD kennel.
"Sometime between October and November 2006, Ms Valdivia's chain of command believed that she was generally aware of the command investigation into the MWD Kennel since it was common knowledge," the report read.
"She was formally informed of the investigation when she, along with all other members of her unit, was assembled together for questioning. She walked out of her interview and appeared to be very upset. she stated that 'they're accusing me'."
She was later informed that as she was not the most senior person involved in the allegations, she would not bear responsibility for what happens in command.
The report claimed that Ms Valdivia made known to her chain of command that she intended to leave the Naval Service in December 2006.
Late that month, the hazing investigation was completed and submitted and command discussed relieving Ms Valdivia from her duties as oshe was significantly implicated in the command investigation'.
Subsequently, Ms Valdivia was told on January 11, 2007 that she had been placed on administrative legal hold, relieved of her duties and was not permitted to transfer, depart on leave, or separate from the Navy without command approval.
Ms Valdivia reacted to the news with what was described as a "slight jolt" but did not raise her voice, cry or appear unduly upset.
The next day on January 12 - after driving a friend who had visited from the US to the airport - she returned home and performed internet searches on 'suicide methods', 'carbon monoxide suicide involving motor vehicles' and 'charcoal grills'.
Ms Valdivia then went to the Navy Exchange and purchased one bottle of vodka, one bag of charcoal, a Weber fire starter kit and a charcoal grill. The last person to see her alive was a colleague who she went to exchange Christmas gifts with following her visit to the exchange. "On January 15, 2007, Ms Valdivia failed to report to work and was mustered in an unauthorised absence status," the report said.
"The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) conducted a preliminary search of Ms Valdivia's villa in Zinj, but revealed no indications of foul play."
Ms Valdivia was found dead the following day in an external building attached to her residence, face down on the floor with a blanket over her head.
A grill containing burnt remnants of charcoal was located in one corner of the room and a 'suicide diary' was found nearby.
"Medical notification of the cause of death by the Kingdom of Bahrain's Ministry of Health is cardiopulmonary failure and autopsy determined the cause of death was suicide," the report concluded.
Ms Valdivia served in the same unit as Petty Officer Third Class Joseph Rocha, who allegedly suffered from hazing due to his sexual orientation.
Mr Rocha left the US Navy in 2007, after he told his commander he was gay, in violation of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy.
He was subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to the abuse encountered at the US Base in Juffair.
Copyright 2009 Gulf Daily News
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|Publication:||Gulf Daily News (Manama, Bahrain)|
|Date:||Oct 8, 2009|
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