Channel Six News Reporter Stephen Adams investigates the death of Fort Hood Army Private Dakota Stump, after he was found dead in November, 24 days after he vanished.
FORT HOOD - EDITOR'S NOTE: A written statement from a Fort Hood official said the Hendricks County Sheriff's Office in Indiana entered Pvt. Dakota Stump into the national missing persons database on Oct. 19, whereas documents obtained by Channel 6 News said it happened on Oct. 16 -- a three day discrepancy. After publishing this story, the Fort Hood official later apologized and corrected his statement to say Oct. 16, which has been updated in the article below.
Overcast skies dulled the sunlight seeping into the woods where a group of soldiers were conducting land navigation training – similar to orienteering – at Fort Hood on November 3, 2016. As they trekked through dense foliage, light winds gently rustled leaves. Ten minutes before noon, the soldiers stumbled across a black Ford Mustang with a red interior. The vehicle was severely damaged and at least 100 yards from the nearest road. It was registered to 19-year-old Army Private Dakota Stump, whose remains were found lying next to the car. As the autopsy would later show, Pvt. Stump weighed a mere 32 pounds when his body was discovered.
Pvt. Stump vanished on October 10. Raised in Avon, Indiana – a suburb of Indianapolis – Pvt. Stump enlisted in the Army in March. Since July, he had served as an indirect-fire infantryman, assigned to 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. Most signs suggest Pvt. Stump’s death was a tragic accident. But, mistakes made in the Army investigation and lingering questions from a private investigation have made it difficult for his family to grieve and caused them to take action they hope will prevent other families from living through their ordeal.
The Night of Pvt. Stump’s Death
Former Staff Sergeant Maggie Haswell is a former Air Force security forces specialist – essentially a military police officer – who spearheaded the private investigation into Pvt. Stump’s disappearance. She volunteers as the president of Warrior’s Aftermath & Recovery, an organization she founded to chase down leads for the families of missing troops. In the last four years, her group has been involved in more than 100 investigations. On November 23, Fmr. SSgt. Haswell published an After Action Report chronicling the disappearance of Pvt. Stump.
The After Action Report includes witness statements from those who knew Pvt. Stump. One of his older friends, who was 23 at the time, told Fmr. SSgt. Haswell that Pvt. Stump returned to the barracks from field ops on the night he disappeared. According to the statement, Pvt. Stump came back to shower, do laundry, relax and regroup. Though the timeline is not entirely clear, interviews suggest it was around dinnertime. At some point during the night, the same older friend told Fmr. SSgt. Haswell that he, Pvt. Stump, and a third friend went to the Post Exchange, where the older friend purchased one bottle of New Amsterdam liquor. They then returned to the third friend’s room, where the trio hung out for the rest of the evening, the report suggests. During the course of the evening, the older friend said Pvt. Stump drank four or five shots and did some laundry. Around 8 p.m., Pvt. Stump sent a text message to his girlfriend, claiming he was drunk. The report said nearly two hours later, at approximately quarter of 10 p.m., Pvt. Stump got into his Ford Mustang and drove toward the motor pool, where his friends claimed he was supposed to rendezvous with his unit and return to the field. But, he never made it there.
According to the report, the motor pool was only a two-minute drive away. Pvt. Stump’s mother said Army investigators claim her son was speeding at 82 miles per hour, slowing to 62, before hitting a mound of dirt at the end of a nearby road, where he flipped the Mustang multiple times and died.
Approximate Location of the Crash
Until the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command (CID) completes its investigation and clears the location of the tragedy for release, Fort Hood will not provide specifics regarding the exact site of the deadly crash. However, earlier information provided by Fort Hood identifies the approximate location as roughly 100 yards from the roadway near Building 43028 on post. The Army said terrain and heavy vegetation made it impossible to see the Mustang from the road.
Based on maps and information uncovered in Fmr. SSgt. Haswell’s private investigation, one can pinpoint the crash site to the general vicinity of the wooded area – just South of Turkey Run Road and West of North Avenue on post. Aerial images show dense foliage, which may have concealed the car, as Fort Hood claims.
Delay in Reporting Pvt. Stump Missing
When Pvt. Stump vanished without a trace, the Army considered him Absent Without Leave (AWOL). A Fort Hood official said this designation allowed the army to increase the scope of the search radius. Two days after Pvt. Stump disappeared, Fort Hood officials entered an “attempt to locate” status into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database – which is essentially the national registry for missing persons. The entry included a description of Pvt. Stump and his vehicle, which was intended to help other law enforcement agencies identify him and report sightings to post, a Fort Hood official said.
Ford Hood updated NCIC with additional information on Oct. 13, the official added. Then, on Oct. 21, Pvt. Stump’s commander changed his status to “deserter” and entered his information into the Texas Crime Information Center (the statewide equivalent of NCIC). According to the official, the “deserter” status enabled law enforcement to expand their search and gave police permission to detain Pvt. Stump if they found him.
Fort Hood Col. Thomas Veale released a detailed explanation on deserter status to Channel 6, after the publication of the article. The following quote has been added for context: "When a soldier goes missing, the typical timeline for declaration of AWOL is after 24 hours -- essentially, the same timeline police use for a missing person. 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 US 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," Col. Veale said.
Six days after the disappearance, Pvt. Stump’s mother drove to her local law enforcement agency: the Hendricks County Sheriff’s Office in Indiana, where she urged deputies to enter her son as a “missing person” in NCIC. An incident report from that meeting confirms Fort Hood had not entered Pvt. Stump as “missing" -- as opposed to the entry under "attempt to locate."
“[Military Police Officer] advised that he had taken the initial AWOL report, but had not yet entered Dakota as a missing person,” the Hendricks County incident report said.
When the Hendricks County Sheriff's Office reached out to Fort Hood, Army officials said they cooperated with deputies and issued a memorandum that allowed Hendricks County to make the "missing person" entry on Oct. 16.
Asked about the case, Hendricks County Sheriff Brett Clark said: “The captain and I have both talked this over, and we can’t think of a single circumstance where we’ve had to get involved with a missing soldier." (Hendricks County is not near an Army base.)
Phone Ping Failure
An Army memorandum indicates Fort Hood investigators traced Pvt. Stump’s phone to the Indianapolis area, even though neither he nor the phone ever left post. Investigators made the family aware of the phone pings, which sent them on a wild goose chase through Indiana – desperate to find Pvt. Stump.
A Ford Hood official said Pvt. Stump’s unit had his cell phone number, which was confirmed by the family and a close personal friend on Oct. 11. In the hours immediately following Pvt. Stump’s disappearance, Fort Hood tried to call his phone but only got through to his voicemail. But, at some point between Oct. 11 and Oct. 13, an investigating official incorrectly transcribed the phone number. As a result, someone else’s phone number was used during the pinging process.
When the investigator handling the geo-location process called the wrong number, there was a generic greeting message on the other phone’s voicemail system. So, that investigator never realized he was calling a different phone than the officials who had previously tried calling Pvt. Stump on his correct phone had, a Fort Hood official explained.
In response to its failure to accurately ping Pvt. Stump’s cell phone, Fort Hood conducted an internal review and changed its procedures for handling cell phones. There is now a double-check procedure in place for phone numbers, particularly if they are not yielding results during a search, a Fort Hood official said.
Confusion over the Autopsy
Pvt. Stump’s autopsy was completed on Nov. 4. His body was badly decomposed, but the medical examiner was able to positively identify his body using dental and DNA comparisons. The cause of death was determined to be blunt force injuries sustained during the crash.
The original Nov. 4 press release from Fort Hood stated the autopsy would be performed by the Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner, Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. Pvt. Stump’s family and the media interpreted that to mean the autopsy would be performed in Delaware. But, as the autopsy clearly states, it was done at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center on Fort Hood.
”It wasn’t only myself that misunderstood them. I guess the media did as well because that’s what was written in the stories that Dakota was being sent to Dover,” Pvt. Stump’s mother Patrice Wise said.
In contrast, a Fort Hood Official said the family was briefed that the autopsy was being done on Fort Hood. The same official said CID agents explained to the family that the Armed Forces Medical Examiner’s Office, which oversees soldier autopsies, is located at Dover Air Force Base – which caused the confusion.
False Leads in the Case
Pvt. Stump’s mother claims Army investigators told her about an iTunes purchase made after he disappeared, which got her hopes up, only to learn later that the purchase was simply a revolving charge. False leads like the iTunes purchase and the phone pings only frustrated the family.
“Clear incompetence,” Wise said. “I mean, why would they tell me that?”
Another bizarre twist involved an email sent by a second private investigator. The private investigator sent an email to Pvt. Stump on Oct. 27. The message was sent to an old account – one to which only Pvt. Stump had access, according to his family. The email contained technology that allowed the private investigator to detect whether or not the email was opened and how many times it was. The email was opened twice: once on Oct. 27 at 3:10 p.m. and once around 4:40 p.m. – after Pvt. Stump was already dead. Who opened the emails and how remains unclear.
There were also a couple false sightings during the time Pvt. Stump was missing. Another local news station received a tip about a sighting on a highway in Austin. That tip was passed along to police, but the license plate did not match. Another person messaged Pvt. Stump’s brother through Facebook to alert him to a possible sighting on I-35 near Pflugerville. That also turned out to be false.
Another unexplained piece of the puzzle was Pvt. Stump's Facebook account. His mother, Patrice Wise, produced Facebook messages, which were analyzed by KCEN. They appear to confirm his Facebook messenger phone app was deleted on Oct. 12, which would have been two days after he supposedly died. It is unclear how that would have happened.
Tension between the Family and Fort Hood
Pvt. Stump’s family and Fort Hood have conflicting stories about efforts to find him. While the family claims the Army dragged its feet on looking for him, Fort Hood said in the fall that it had contacted local police and hospitals immediately after he vanished – in addition to searching the base and updating the family.
But, the family claims investigators at Fort Hood made light of Pvt. Stump’s disappearance.
"The first time MP's reached out to me was on October 14th to tell me that my son's phone was pinging here in Indianapolis, Indiana,” Pvt. Stump’s mother Patrice Wise said. “But, the lead investigator was going on a four-day break. And, I could reach out to him. But, don't call him Saturday after two because the Texans were playing football."
Army Col. Thomas Veale said he could not confirm the exact details of any given conversation between detectives and Ms. Wise, but he said the family never contacted Fort Hood to express they were offended by any “lighthearted remarks.” He said the case log indicates Ms. Wise called the lead investigator around 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 13., after the investigator had originally called her earlier that day to establish contact. That was the Thursday before the four-day Columbus Day weekend.
“[The Lead Investigator] told Ms. Wise that he was going on a four-day weekend, but would be available for phone calls if she desired,” Col. Veale said. “Detectives routinely establish rapport with the family to ensure a free flow of communication in order to reduce stress on the family and enhance cooperation as cases develop.”
Col. Veale claims Ms. Wise called the lead investigator and another detective “several times per day” during the long weekend.
“Detectives were actively engaged with and responsive to the family throughout the weekend and beyond,” Col. Veale added.
Pvt. Stump’s family and Fort Hood also tell different stories about his medals. Wise said Fort Hood sent the wrong medals with him when they transported his remains home -- something the Army denies entirely.
“When we opened the shadow box, we immediately knew they weren’t his and called the Casualty Assistance Officer. It took them three days to get back to us on that,” Wise said. “We were told at the time that they picked up the wrong one.
But, Col. Veale claims that's not true.
“Pvt. Stump had four awards and decorations and all four were on the dress blue uniform delivered to his family: the Army Achievement Medal (AAM), the National Defense Service Medal (NDSM), the Good Conduct Medal (GCM), and the Army Service Ribbon (ASR),” Col. Veale said. “The chain of command and the mortuary affairs representative both verified that all four awards were present before the uniform left Fort Hood. Two of those four were awarded posthumously: the AAM and the GCM.”
Emails show that Pvt. Stump’s phone and wallet have not been returned to the family.
"I do not have access to the ongoing investigation, but I can say that any of Pvt. Stump's personal effects that have not been returned to the family are either not in the government's possession, or are still in use as evidence," Col. Veale said.
Pvt. Stump's mother also claims the first person Dakota's sergeant texted to report him missing was his aunt -- even though his mom was listed as the emergency contact.
Fort Hood launched four investigations into the disappearance of Pvt. Stump. Two of those investigations were conducted by his unit. The first was to determine whether or not the crash will be considered to have occurred in the “line of duty.” The second was an administrative investigation – authorized under Army Regulation 15-6. Both of those investigations are complete, according to a Fort Hood Official with knowledge of the investigations. However, the findings of those investigations have not yet been released.
The third investigation was a traffic accident probe. It was conducted by the installation’s Directorate of Emergency Services. That investigation is also complete, but – like the others – the findings are not publicly known yet.
The fourth investigation is still active. And, it is the largest one. It is the death investigation being done by special agents with the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command (CID). Once the investigation is complete, the family will be briefed before the report is redacted and then available – in parts – under the Freedom of Information Act.
The family confirmed they will soon be briefed on, at the very least, the two unit investigations. An official from 1st Cavalry Division is flying to Indianapolis to meet Patrice Wise at her home on Feb. 25.
Pvt. Stump’s mother Patrice Wise started an online petition on Nov. 14, pushing for legislation she’s calling “Dakota’s Law.” She hopes it will improve military procedures for when veterans and active duty members go missing.
"I have no ulterior motive except to stop another soldier or family from having to go through what I'm probably going to have to go through for the rest of my life," Wise said.
As of Feb. 13, the petition had more than 5,300 signatures. It was targeted at Vice President Mike Pence’s Chief of Staff, and the family said Pence had already been in touch. The Vice President was formerly the governor of Indiana, where Pvt. Stump’s family lives.
Asked for comment on the petition, Fort Hood said "it would be inappropriate for us to comment on a request for proposed legislation."