Marines: Taylor recruit committed suicide amid hazing

Detroit News staff and wire reports

A Taylor man who died during Marine Corps training in March committed suicide amid hazing and abuse in his battalion at Parris Island, Marine Corps officials said Thursday.

Raheel Siddiqui, 20, died March 18 after falling nearly 40 feet in a barracks stairwell at a Marine training depot in South Carolina. Siddiqui, who was Muslim, had arrived at Parris Island less than two weeks earlier on March 7 for basic training, according to officials.

The investigation conducted by the Corps into Siddiqui’s death could lead to punishments for as many as 20 officers and enlisted leaders identified for potential administrative or judicial action, which could include courts-martial.

In a statement Thursday, the Marine Corps said it has ordered several commanders and enlisted leaders relieved and suspended a number of drill instructors.

“Findings from the Siddiqui investigation conclude that Siddiqui’s death was the result of suicide,” the statement read. “Additionally, the investigations revealed departures from the policies and procedures established for Marine Corps recruit training.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the investigations, a drill instructor allegedly referred to Siddiqui as a terrorist and physically abused him.

The findings are the result of three investigations conducted by Maj. Gen. James Lukeman from the service’s training and education command in Quantico, Virginia.

The findings further allege recurrent physical and verbal abuse of recruits by drill instructors, with a noted insufficiency of oversight and supervision at various command levels, and maltreatment of new drill instructors by veteran instructors.

The findings also included “gaps in awareness” by commanders in terms of their roles within the investigation process, and uncovered inconsistencies in the Marines’ policies and procedures for responding to suicidal ideations or statements.

In an attempt to fix the problems, Marine commanders have suspended those personnel under investigation for alleged hazing and abusing of recruits and enacted a zero-tolerance policy for hazing among drill instructors. They are also boosting officer supervision of training and reviewing mental health processes, procedures and suicide-prevention protocols.

“When America’s men and women commit to becoming Marines, we make a promise to them. We pledge to train them with firmness, fairness, dignity and compassion. Simply stated, the manner in which we make Marines is as important as the finished product. Recruit training is, and will remain, physically and mentally challenging so that we can produce disciplined, ethical, basically trained Marines,” Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said in a statement.

“We mourn the loss of Recruit Siddiqui, and we will take every step necessary to prevent tragic events like this from happening again.”

The Naval Criminal Investigation Service is also conducting a separate probe.

Three senior Marines at the installation already lost their positions in the wake of his death, officials said in June.

Col. Paul D. Cucinotta, the commander in charge of recruit training, was relieved of command on June 6. Sgt. Maj. Nicholas A. Deabreu, Cucinotta’s senior enlisted adviser, was dismissed at the same time. On March 31, Cucinotta relieved Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon of his command. Kissoon had been in charge of Siddiqui’s battalion.

A spokesman for Siddiqui’s family, attorney Shiraz Khan, said following Thursday’s developments, he is reviewing the findings then “will determine their next course of action.”

“At this time, we acknowledge the efforts of the United States Marine Corps. However, there are too many questions that remain unanswered. We will work with NCIS as they move forward with their investigation," Khan said. “We can tell you this, the family does not believe the story of Raheel committing suicide, they feel it couldn't be further from the truth.

“We believe, the facts surrounding Raheel's death speak directly to our concerns. However, we must understand this is not a Muslim Issue, it's an American issue. To those that say otherwise, I ask you, what if this patriotic young man was your son or your brother? We believe that there is a lack of material evidence needed to support ‘suicide’ as the most probable cause of death in this case."

Siddiqui’s family had earlier hired an attorney, Nabih Ayad, who had said NCIS investigators met with Siddiqui’s family and they learned an autopsy report showed the recruit did not appear to have suffered a “controlled fall,” as believed earlier.

Ayad also said the family believed authorities were aware one of Siddiqui’s drill instructors had a history of making discriminatory comments.

Siddiqui’s death, meanwhile, has also drawn the concern of Michigan lawmakers.

In July, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, sent a letter to Neller seeking details on Siddiqui’s death and clarification about Parris Island personnel alleged to have violated Marine Corps orders related to hazing, physical abuse, failure of supervision and assault.

Neller briefed Dingell at her office Thursday on the results of the investigation.

“Today’s announcement by the Marine Corps is a first step in ensuring the family of Private Raheel Siddiqui receives the answers they deserve and that the Marine Corps is addressing the serious issues that led to this tragedy,” she said in a statement. “This weekend, I will visit Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, to see firsthand the recruit training process, meet with the new leadership and learn about the changes that are being implemented to ensure a tragedy like this never happens again.

“This is the very least the Siddiqui family — and the thousands of families across our country whose children serve in uniform — deserve.”

Each year, about 19,000 recruits go to Parris Island for 12 weeks of training. The depot trains male recruits from east of the Mississippi River and all female Marine recruits.