The Army has told the family of a U.S. soldier who was killed in a shootout with police in downtown Salt Lake City that the combat veteran cannot be buried at a federal veterans cemetery near his hometown.
That's despite allegations by multiple sources at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where Brandon Barrett had been stationed before going AWOL after his return from Afghanistan, that the Army failed to properly screen him for post-traumatic stress and didn't follow protocol when he left the base after being publicly berated by a senior sergeant.
And Barrett's brother, Shane, said the Army's Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Branch, which denied the burial, didn't even bother to contact his family directly. He found out the funeral had been canceled from the captain of the honor guard team scheduled to render graveside military rites just hours before his family was to leave for Fort Huachuca Cemetery in southeast Arizona.
"I had to call my mom at the florist to tell her," Shane Barrett said. "She was standing in line to pick up roses for my brother's funeral when I told her to turn around and come home."
Army officials involved in the decision did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Brandon Barrett was wearing full battle gear, carrying a rifle and apparently going through the motions of a combat patrol when police confronted him Aug. 27 near Grand America Hotel on Main Street. Barrett fired his weapon, striking an officer in the leg. The officer returned fire, killing Barrett.
It's unclear why Barrett was in Salt Lake City, but he had told friends he would be staying at the hotel and had earlier indicated he wanted to make a statement about the way he had been treated by the Army.
Barrett had told friends he was returning to his base in Washington state to accept the consequences for leaving base without permission. Several people familiar with the situation said a chaplain had promised to help Barrett seek lenient punishment, given that he had just returned from a violent yearlong combat tour in which he had killed a number of enemy combatants and been present for attacks that claimed the lives and limbs of several comrades.
Many of Barrett's fellow soldiers also found fault with the way his first sergeant had pulled him out of the ranks to publicly chastise him after an arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol two nights after the unit returned from its deployment. Barrett was found asleep behind the wheel of his car on the side of the road.
Shane Barrett, a police detective in Tucson, said his family does not condone his brother's driving under the influence nor the actions he took leading to his death. The family has expressed deep regret and extended apologies to the wounded officer, who has since been released from the hospital and is on leave while the shooting is investigated.
But Shane Barrett is haunted by the notion that the situation might have been prevented if the Army had been as interested in helping his brother as it appeared to be in punishing him. He is angry that the Army didn't even bother to contact his family to let them know Barrett was AWOL. He noted that numerous people who were listed on his brother's emergency contact form were not contacted.
Army regulations call for the soldier's commanding officer to send a letter to next of kin within 15 days of the time the soldier is found to be AWOL and that did not happen, either.
"If they had reached out to us, we could have reached out to him," Shane Barrett said. "But we had no idea anything was wrong."
Now, Shane Barrett said, his family simply wishes to be able to give his brother the rites he earned during several years of exemplary service to his country, both at home and abroad.
"We'd like to be able to honor him for all of that honorable service," he said. "But what they're telling us is all that matters is the circumstances of his death."
The military has been criticized in the past for giving honors to those who have been convicted of violent crimes. Last month, a number of Marines refused to participate in an honor guard team for Raymond Sawyer, a World War II veteran coincidentally, also from Tucson who died in state prison while serving time for the murder of his wife. Sawyer was nonetheless buried at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Colorado in a funeral that included a 21-gun salute.
According to federal law, the only conviction that disqualifies veterans from burial in a national cemetery is a capital crime.
Shane Barrett noted that his brother was killed long before he could go to trial for any crime and none was a capital offense.
"So we're going to fight this decision," he said. "We figure that the least the Army can do is to let us bury my brother in peace. That's all we're asking."