Abuse in Marine recruit’s death detailed

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — On the day he died at boot camp, Marine Corps recruit Raheel Siddiqui had a standoff with a drill instructor over a failure to comply with his orders.

Raheel Siddiqui, a Pakistani-American from Taylor, died March 18 after falling nearly 40 feet in a barracks stairwell.

As punishment, the 20-year-old from Taylor was forced to run back and forth across the barracks squad bay numerous times. At some point, he began to cry and then collapsed to the ground, according to the military investigation into his death.

The drill instructor ordered the Pakistani-American to stand and slapped him one to three times across the face when Siddiqui didn’t respond.

Siddiqui then got to his feet, ran the length of the squad bay, opened a door to the outside and vaulted over a stairwell railing.

A foot caught on the railing as he went over, and Siddiqui fell three stories to the concrete below. He would later die from his injuries. The Marines classified the death as a suicide.

The description of the events leading to the death at Parris Island comes amid revelations of systemic hazing and abuse of recruits within the 3rd Recruit Training Battalion at the training depot in South Carolina, as documented in three recent Marine investigations reviewed this week by The Detroit News.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest last Thursday called the graphic details of the hazing and abuse of Siddiqui, a Muslim, “disturbing.”

The probes led to the relieving of commanders and senior enlisted advisers at multiple levels, as well as the suspension of drill instructors who allegedly engaged in misconduct, according to Marine officials.

The investigations identified as many as 20 officers and enlisted leaders for potential administrative or judicial action, which could include courts-martial. Their names were redacted in the investigations reviewed by The News, and the Marines are not making them available for interviews. No charges have been filed to date.

“I fully support and endorse these initial actions,” Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller said in a statement earlier this month. “ ... Simply stated, the manner in which we make Marines is as important as the finished product.”

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is conducting a separate investigation, NCIS spokesman Ed Buice said Wednesday.

Siddiqui’s family, meanwhile, does not believe he committed suicide, saying he was targeted and intentionally abused.

“The family has so many questions that deserve answers. The family has serious concerns that Raheel's death was criminal and not a ‘suicide,’” Shiraz K. Khan, attorney for the Siddiqui family said in a statement.

The Marine investigators’ report on Siddiqui’s death, dated Aug. 10, found that he had threatened to kill himself four days before he died on March 18.

Commanding officers at Parris Island believed Marine recruits threatened to kill themselves to avoid training — a bias that investigators say led them to discount Siddiqui’s serious mental condition.

One officer interviewed by investigators believed that Siddiqui was fabricating his suicidal threat to be dismissed from the Marines with “the magic words that would send him home.”

“This perception shaped the way ... chain of command handled (Siddiqui’s) suicidal ideation,” investigators wrote.

The investigation concluded that Parris Island personnel shouldn’t have sent Sidiqqui back into training, considering he threatened suicide after less than a day in his recruit platoon and went so far as to describe the manner in which he would kill himself. At the time, Sidiqqui also reported having suicidal thoughts prior to enlisting in the Marines, according to the report.

Investigators also found the drill instructor who had a standoff with Siddiqui shortly before his death shouldn’t have been assigned to the platoon because he remained under investigation for alleged misconduct in 2015.

In the 2015 incident, the drill instructor, while under the influence of alcohol, forced a different Muslim recruit into a Speed Queen commercial clothes dryer and turned it on, while commenting about his religion and suggesting his involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, according to the probe.

The officers who decided not to suspend the drill instructor later said they believed the evidence in the 2015 case “lacked veracity” because of a delay in the reporting of the allegations and because some Marines who filed the complaints were being administratively separated from the Marines.

Inconsistencies in procedures

The death investigation describes verbal and physical abuse of recruits, but also identifies inconsistencies in procedures for handling suicidal threats made by recruits.

Siddiqui arrived at Parris Island on March 7. After a week of administrative processing, he was assigned to Platoon 3042 for basic training March 12.

Less than a full day later, on March 13, Siddiqui said he would kill himself if required to return to training. He said he would jump out of the squad bay window — if necessary, cutting the screen first to make his way.

When asked how his family would feel if he returned home without becoming a Marine, Siddiqui answered that he would “tell his mother goodbye and kill himself,” according to the investigation.

Military police and paramedics were called to the barracks, where Siddiqui told police he “could not handle” drill instructors yelling at him and hitting him.

Fifteen minutes later, the sentry on duty denied a request for emergency services to transport Siddiqui to Beaufort Memorial Hospital, citing protocol for first responders that a recruit only qualifies for emergency transport if he has harmed himself or actually attempted suicide.

In his report, the investigating officer suggested someone else in the company should have taken Siddiqui to the hospital for evaluation.

Instead, Siddiqui was sent to stay the night in the squad bay of an adjacent platoon with a recruit assigned to “shadow watch” him at all times. While in the adjacent squad bay, Siddiqui recanted his threat to kill himself, saying he wanted to continue to train.

Siddiqui was evaluated by medical personnel at the Mental Health Unit the following day, but not before a series of interviews with drill instructors and career recruiters.

The latter advised Siddiqui, as they do with all recruits, that he could be discharged for fraudulent enlistment if he hid pre-existing psychological conditions from his recruiter in Detroit.

This “likely affected” Siddiqui’s truthfulness during his interview in the Mental Health Unit, the investigator said.

None of Siddiqui’s superiors communicated to the Mental Health Unit that he had articulated a plan and his means for suicide, or that he had admitted to having suicidal thoughts prior to joining the Marines.

“Had the Mental Health Unit known about (Siddiqui’s) articulated plan for suicide, he would have been separated from the Marines with a diagnosis of suicidal ideation,” the investigator wrote.

Instead, staff concluded there was no evidence that Siddiqui had a mental health condition to disqualify him from training and found him at low risk for harm. A follow-up visit to the mental health unit was not recommended.

Four days later, on the morning of March 18, Siddiqui gave a note to a drill instructor school student seeking medical treatment for a sore throat. One or more drill instructors yelled at him because he wasn’t sounding off. Rather than speaking, Siddiqui pointed to his throat and mouthed words, handing over a handwritten note.

The note said: “This recruit has to go to medical. This recruit’s throat has been swollen for three days and is getting worse. When this recruit drinks and eats, it hurts and has trouble. This recruit also coughed blood a few times last night. And this recruit completely lost his voice and can barely whisper. This recruit’s whole neck is in a lot of pain.”

Following breakfast, Siddiqui was summoned to the front of the squad bay. Since he repeatedly “did not properly report” to the drill instructor, he was ordered to run back and forth from one end of the squad bay to the other and back, before attempting to report again to the drill instructor, according to the investigation.

After several laps, Siddiqui began to cry, dropped or fell to the floor and clutched his throat. As the drill instructor approached, he accused Siddiqui of faking it, ordering him to get to his feet.

Witnesses said the drill instructor said something like, “I don’t care what’s wrong with you. You’re going to say something back to me.”

He then bent down and slapped Siddiqui’s face “hard enough to generate a sound across the squad bay.”

Witnesses told investigators that Siddiqui stood up holding his face, turned and ran out a door leading to a stairwell and vaulted over the railing.

His foot caught the railing, and he “appeared to trip or tumble over,” falling 38.5 feet to the concrete below — his chest striking on a steel handrail.

Siddiqui was pronounced dead several hours later at the Medical University of South Carolina.

An autopsy the next day opined that Siddiqui died of “blunt force trauma to the head, neck and torso” suffered during the fall, concluding “the manner of death is best deemed suicide.” The handwritten note about his sore throat was found in the front left pocket of his pants.

The investigating officer said the tripping motion and “uncontrolled” nature of Siddiqui’s fall makes it “impossible” to determine whether he intended to commit suicide or “simply disregarded the likely and probable outcome of jumping from the building in an effort to escape the confrontation with” the drill instructor.

Regardless of Siddiqui’s intent, his vaulting the railing caused his death, and “given the forgoing, (Siddiqui’s) manner of death is properly categorized as a suicide,” the investigating officer wrote.

The report’s findings further allege insufficient oversight and supervision at various command levels, and “gaps in awareness” by commanders about their roles within the investigation process.

In an attempt to fix the problems, Marine commanders say they are boosting officer supervision of training and reviewing mental health processes, procedures and suicide-prevention protocols.

The investigating officer also recommended that Naval Medicine launch a separate investigation into the “adequacy of care” provided to Siddiqui by the Mental Health Unit, as it “has been placed reasonably at issue in this investigation.”


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