The mothers of two Fort Hood soldiers who went missing and were later found dead want the Army to change the way searches are done to find missing troops.
In October 2017, Pvt. Dakota Stump went missing and was listed as absent without leave, or AWOL. About three weeks later, a small group of soldiers came across Stump’s body next to his wrecked vehicle.
In August 2019, Pvt. Gregory Wedel-Morales disappeared. He was listed as AWOL, and a month later, placed in a deserter status. He soldier was only a few days away from getting out of the Army.
On June 19, 10 months later, a tip led to his body buried in a field in Killeen. Foul play is now suspected.
Yet the mothers of the two soldiers both say that no real search was done for either of them.
Now, with a national spotlight on the search for Pfc. Vanessa Guillen, both mothers believe there is a chance to change how the military classifies missing soldiers.
And, perhaps, start finding some of them alive.
Guillen disappeared April 22. Foul play is suspected at this time.
“The Army must change now. If a piece of equipment goes missing, they look for it,” said Patrice Wise, Stump’s mother. “If a soldier goes missing, there is a recruiter out there to just find a replacement for them.”
Wise said that the search for her son was not taken as seriously as what is currently being done for Guillen.
“But this is also a completely different situation,” she said. “They led me to believe he was in Indiana until he was finally found.”
In the case of Wedel-Morales, his unit called his mother, Kim Wedel, on Aug. 21 and asked her when was the last time she had talked to him because he didn’t show up for formation, she said.
“Next thing they tell me, he’s AWOL,” Wedel said. “I filed a missing person report with the Killeen Police Department, but they said that since he was an adult, the best thing you can do is use social media to find him.”
On June 20, a military detail went to her home in Oklahoma to notify Wedel that it was her son’s remains they had found.
“My perception is nothing was going on until they (Fort Hood) were forced into it. I reached out (to CID) and said, ‘hey, this young lady deserves a reward, but what about my son?’ We had nothing until this reward came out and got a tip,” she said. “If we had done this to begin with, we may not have had to wait 10 months.”
Because of his status as a deserter, Wedel said the family cannot even give him a proper military burial until an autopsy confirms he has been dead since he disappeared.
Wise said she hopes that this national spotlight will help families such as hers and those of Wedel and Guillen to change the way the military classifies service members who go missing until an actual search is done.
To that end, she is currently working with former Air Force Staff Sgt. Maggie Haswell to create “Dakota’s Law.”
Haswell, a former military policeman with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, runs a volunteer organization that helps look for missing soldiers and veterans called Warriors Aftermath and Recovery.
“When a service member goes missing, law enforcement doesn’t get involved right away,” Haswell said in a phone interview Friday. “They figure they are adults, so they can do what they want. In the military, they basically just check the barracks, call some buddies and that’s about it.”
Dakota’s Law would change that, she said.
It would also require a more open line of communication between CID and family members, she said. An open flow of communication would at least make families feel more comfortable that something is actually being done, even if CID cannot give a lot of information about ongoing investigations.
It would also eliminate the time limit and restriction of jurisdiction to file a missing persons report.
Other parts of the law would create a federal task force trained specifically in looking for missing service members and set up an alert system similar to the Amber Alert, she said.
Haswell said she has reached out to members of Congress to sponsor the law, but so far none have responded.
Wedel said she understands that lack of assistance from the government.
“I tried contacting the local congressmen, sent emails to U.S. Congressmen, and got nothing,” Wedel said. “Now, I think they are all running scared. We’re getting help now, but it’s just too late. My son’s story wasn’t like Vanessa’s, but still, someone should have looked for him. All I can do is now try to help other families of soldiers who don’t show up for work. Assume the worst and look for them.”
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