FORT HOOD — When Army Pvt. Dakota Stump went missing the evening of Oct. 10, the 19-year-old soldier had been on a short four-hour break from training before he was scheduled to meet with his unit and go back into the field.
The young 1st Cavalry Division soldier had been drinking alcohol during that break, his mother said. The Avon, Ind., native then got into his black Ford Mustang about 10 p.m. to return to work.
He never made it.
About three weeks later, on Nov. 3, soldiers conducting impromptu land-navigation training discovered Stump’s body next to a flipped-over vehicle in a wooded area about 100 yards from the roadway near Building 43028 on Fort Hood. The area is not normally used for training.
The location of the wreck was more than three-quarters of a mile from the motor pool area where Stump was supposed to meet his unit.
Stump’s mother, Patrice Wise, said Army investigators told her that her son was driving up to 82 mph and slowed to 62 mph before hitting a mound of dirt at the end of the road and flipping his vehicle multiple times.
The release put out by Fort Hood on Nov. 4, the day after Stump was discovered, said his body was found next to the vehicle, implying he had been ejected during the crash.
“He was not happy about going back into the field, because he had been out in the field for 20 days. It was getting cold at night, they were sleeping on top of the humvees — it’s not a fun time,” Wise said. “Even though they had downtime, they’re busy doing their jobs, and they’re not able to talk to their friends and their girlfriends and their families as much as they’d like to.”
Stump was a member of Apache Troop, 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
During his break, Wise said her son was able to do laundry, shower and get ready to go back into the field for another 10 days. He was playing video games, talking and texting with his friends, according to what she was told by the Army.
“We have records of all of this. The thing that went wrong is a 23-year-old went and bought a bottle of New Amsterdam and shared it with my 19-year-old and another 19-year-old,” she said. “Over a 2½-hour time frame, we were told that Dakota had three or four shots and then we were told later it was four or five. We don’t know for sure. But he had, had a little bit to drink and got in his car.”
Stump lost his keys and enlisted help from friends to find them. When he did, he hurried to get back to the motor pool, his mother said Army officials told her.
“They’re saying he drove right past the motor pool he had just been to a few hours before. I’m assuming it would be pretty dark in Texas (at the time),” Wise said.
The crash happened about 10 p.m.
“(Fort Hood officials) made it sound that he basically just came to the end of the pavement, hit a mound of dirt, and at that point was going about 62 mph. His car spun and flipped and ended up resting by a tree, and he was ejected from the car,” Wise said. “We don’t know his state at the time, when he was ejected from the car — I’m sure it wasn’t good,” she said. “We don’t know if he died on impact. That’s another thing that bothers a mother, not knowing if somebody would have seen it or heard it. Could he have been saved? We don’t know.”
An observation of the crash site shows there would be no way of seeing the vehicle from the road or nearby buildings. The vehicle would have been traveling fast enough to clear the first line of brush before landing in a heavily wooded area, and the vehicle bounced often enough not to leave an obvious trail of crushed foliage. A trail had to be cut through the woods to get a wrecker to the vehicle.
The family claims Fort Hood officials did not do enough to search for the missing soldier and failed to communicate what they were doing to find him.
Wise began a petition to change military reporting of missing persons because of it. As of Wednesday, 5,343 signatures were collected.
“I don’t feel they deliberately lied to us, they just were so incompetent and so many hands were pretty much in the bucket that nobody knew what the other was doing,” she said. “We were just so misled and sent on a wild goose chase, and then I find out that my son has been dead the whole time.”
Wise said Fort Hood officials probably felt like they did everything they could to find her son, but doesn’t feel like “they believed 100 percent that he wasn’t just out there messing around and being a teenager. I can’t say I blame them for that, because I’m sure that happens all the time, but that’s not always the case, and I need them to realize that this was a real missing persons case, and that does happen sometimes.”
According to Fort Hood officials, the Army did go above and beyond requirements to find Stump.
Initially, the post worked with law enforcement officials to determine whether Stump purchased a firearm, which is done out of concern for the soldier’s well-being to rule out suicide, Fort Hood officials said. There was no indication Stump did so. Fort Hood officials then checked with health care facilities and law enforcement offices in Central Texas for assistance. The official search began Oct. 12.
Post officials continued to cooperate with the family and local and national officials to find Stump. The Hendricks County Sheriff’s Office in Indiana considered the case to be in Army jurisdiction in Texas, and would not at first make a missing person entry in the National Crime Information Center database as the family requested.
Stump’s commanding officer issued a memorandum acknowledging Hendricks County’s desire to make an NCIC entry for Stump as a missing person, which the county did on Oct. 16 as part of Fort Hood’s effort.
Fort Hood had 221 soldiers go absent without leave in 2016. Of those, 93 were given “deserter” status and 15 remain at large.
“When a soldier goes missing, the typical time line for declaration of AWOL is after 24 hours — essentially, the same timeline police use for a missing person,” said III Corps spokesman Col. Thomas Veale. “Deserter status usually follows 30 days after AWOL. However, there are exigent circumstances in which a commander may wish to accelerate the timeline. In this case, the declaration of deserter status inside the 30-day window actually empowered other agencies to look for, or even detain, Pvt. Stump. Our primary concerns were Stump’s whereabouts and well-being. When the U.S. Army Deserter Information Point entered the status in NCIC, we essentially expanded the search radius and search authorities as part of a vigorous, coordinated effort.”
On Oct. 21, Stump’s commander changed his status from AWOL to deserter, Fort Hood officials said.
“Following the discovery of the accident scene, Fort Hood officials conducted an internal review of the response and have made some changes to procedures,” Veale said. “Specifically, there is a double-check on telephone numbers, particularly if they are not yielding results during a search. We are committed to improving processes to ensure timely, effective and lawful searches when a soldier’s whereabouts and well-being are concerned.”
Special agents from U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command opened their investigation on the day of the discovery of the crash scene and have kept the family updated.
Although initial discussions of the case used approximate terms to describe the location and circumstances, the facts have not changed, Fort Hood officials said.
“We all lost a soldier, son, brother and friend in a tragic event that led to an unexpected and equally tragic discovery,” Veale said. “Our hearts go out to Pvt. Stump’s family and friends, and we will continue to communicate openly and freely with the family as the CID investigation continues.”
No timeline has been given on when the investigation could be complete.
Wise said she hopes future investigations will begin immediately.
“Hopefully this will change how (the military) handles a missing person’s case, how these leaders who have all this authority over these kids will watch over them,” she said. “I never thought in my wildest dreams that a soldier could die on even such a very large base and be dead for 3½ weeks and no one see him.”