Family frustrated in Ky. guardsman’s death

Published 4:43 pm Thursday, June 26, 2008

It’s been more than three weeks since the body of a Kentucky National Guardsman was found on a Mississippi military base and the soldier’s grieving family is still waiting for answers.

Spc. Ryan Longnecker of Glasgow, Ky. was training at Camp Shelby in south Mississippi when he was reported missing in August 2007, just two days before his unit left for Iraq. The 19-year-old soldier’s skeletal remains were found June 3 in a wooded area on the massive base near Hattiesburg.

The military has released little information about Longnecker’s death.

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“It’s frustrating,” said Shirley Ann Longnecker of Cambridge City, Ind., the guardsman’s paternal grandmother.

“To me, it’s just going to be a big mystery until we get something official,” she said. “They probably know what happened. But we haven’t been told.”

Longnecker’s two military-issued weapons — an assault rifle and a pistol — were found near his body.

The soldier’s father, Brian Longnecker of Milton, Ind., said his son had not been issued ammunition for the weapons so he is skeptical that suicide is the cause of death.

“They said there was no ammo,” the father said. “I feel kind of intent to believe he died in an accident. But if it was a homicide, I hope there’s an open investigation.”

Base officials won’t say if ammunition had been issued to the soldier or speculate on how he died. The body has been sent for an autopsy.

“It’s still under investigation to determine what happened and when it happened,” said Lt. Col. Doril Sanders, a base spokesman.

For now, Ryan Longnecker’s grieving family is left waiting for closure. Speculation about his death has ranged from a lethal snakebite to the soldier being hit by a vehicle during a night training exercise.

“I want to go to the funeral and get it behind me,” Brian Longnecker said.

Ryan Longnecker was not happy in his unit but he was looking forward to going to Iraq, the grandmother said. She does not believe he committed suicide.

“Of course that’s crossed our minds after all this time, but he was too lively for that,” Longnecker said.

The remains were found between two roads and “probably a few hundred yards from a building in a secluded area,” Forrest County Coroner Butch Benedict has said.

The coroner has said he does not have much information because he was escorted onto the base, documented that there was a deceased body there, and escorted off the base. The Army is handling the investigation.

Ryan Longnecker was originally classified as absent without leave and his case was turned over to the U.S. Marshals Service when he was not located.

Eventually, his remains were found by other soldiers training at Camp Shelby, which was activated in 2004 as a federal training site for Guard soldiers from across the country.