Series Of Slayings Shakes Military Community

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) - In the past six weeks, the wives of four Fort Bragg soldiers have been slain, two of them from Ohio.

In all four cases, their husbands are accused of killing them, investigators said. Three of the men were special operations soldiers who had been deployed to Afghanistan.

The slayings have shaken this military community, and Fort Bragg officials say they are trying to determine whether the hardships of military life -- made worse by the stress of wartime deployments -- contributed.

"One case of child abuse or spouse abuse or one homicide is one too many, and it's a continuous effort on all our parts to do as much as we can to prevent it from happening again," said Col. Tad Davis, Fort Bragg's garrison commander.

The string of family deaths started June 11. Fayetteville police said that was when Sgt. 1st Class Rigoberto Nieves -- a soldier in the 3rd Special Forces Group who had been back from Afghanistan just two days -- shot his wife, Teresa, and then himself in their bedroom.

Officials say Nieves had requested leave to resolve personal problems.

Sheriff's investigators said Jennifer Wright was strangled June 29. Her husband, Master Sgt. William Wright of the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion, reported her missing two days later. Then on July 19, he led investigators to her body in Hoke County and was charged with murder.

Wright, who had been back from Afghanistan about a month, had moved out of his house and was living in the barracks.

The couple met in high school in Mason, Ohio, about 30 miles north of Cincinnati. They married shortly after Jennifer graduated.

Her father, Archie Watson, said the Wrights had talked recently about divorce. Jennifer had grown tired of military life, her father said, but William Wright was reluctant to let her go.

On the same day Wright was arrested, Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Floyd shot his wife, Andrea, a native of Alliance, Ohio, then killed himself in their Stedman home.

The Fayetteville Observer reported Floyd was a member of Delta Force, the secretive anti-terrorism unit based at Fort Bragg. He returned from Afghanistan in January, officials said. The couple's three children were in Ohio visiting relatives at the time of the deaths.

In the fourth case, Army Sgt. Cedric Ramon Griffin, 28, was charged with first-degree murder, two counts of attempted first-degree murder and first-degree arson in the July 9 death of his wife, Cumberland County Sheriff Moose Butler said.

Marilyn Griffin, 32, was found dead in the burning home. Her two children escaped the fire.

"It's very much a tragedy," said Maj. Gary Kolb, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, to which Nieves, Wright and Floyd were all assigned. "I wish it would be easy enough to pinpoint one thing and say, 'This will never happen again.'

"Each one needs to be looked at individually, and we need to let soldiers know there are resources out there to help him solve his problems."

Kolb said the Special Operations Command will look at the programs in place to help soldiers.

"We're not looking to blame anyone for anything," he said.

Chaplains provide spiritual guidance and counseling to soldiers on deployments, he said. Before soldiers return home, chaplains talk to both solider and spouse about making the transition back to home life.

Kolb says he questions any attempt to link the family killings to Afghanistan.

"Can you say that going to Afghanistan caused this?" he said. "It's a reach."

Fort Bragg is the Army's headquarters for Special Forces and special operations soldiers, and hundreds have been deployed in the fight against terrorism.

Yvonne Qualantone, president of the 3rd Special Forces Group's Family Readiness Group, a support group for the unit's families, said her phone has been ringing a lot since the killings.

Since the killings, she said, some women who have been having marital problems have called wanting where they can turn before things get worse.

"We're giving our chaplains a run for their money," she said. "And just kind of leaving the lines open so we have people to contact."

Qualantone said that having husbands in Special Forces is hard on wives, and they learn to be self-sufficient. "I think it takes a stronger woman than most," she said. "Because you are on your own quite a bit."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)