BUFFALO, New York – An Army unit is reviewing how it delivers information to families after a call to a western New York couple led them to believe their son had been killed in combat.
Ray Jasper of Niagara Falls said he, his wife, Robin, and their extended family spent four hours Sunday mourning their son, Sgt. Jesse Jasper, before learning from his girlfriend that he was alive.
The 26-year-old soldier called his father from Afghanistan to prove it after hearing about the mix-up.
"Dad what's going on?" Jesse Jasper asked.
"I said, 'Oh my God you're alive, I love you, I love you, I love you, you're alive,"' Ray Jasper, 49, said Tuesday.
An Army spokesman with Jasper's unit said officials may revise the written scripts used by volunteer liaisons to inform all families of any deaths within the unit to avoid similar misunderstandings in the future.
The nightmare started about 2 p.m. Sunday when Ray Jasper, while on a family camping trip, got an urgent message from a family liaison from his son's unit in the 82nd Airborne Division, based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. When he reached the liaison — the wife of a soldier deployed with Jasper's son — she told him she had a "red line message" that she needed to read to him verbatim.
"She said, 'I'm sorry to inform you that on Sept. 12, that Sgt. Judin and Sgt. Jesse Jasper were killed in Afghanistan,"' Ray Jasper recounted.
"My wife was talking to me at the time and I said, 'say that again,' and she said the same thing over again. I couldn't do any more. I hit the floor," he said.
Jasper knew the military's policy is to notify families in person when a soldier has been killed, but after being away all weekend, he thought someone might have called after finding no one home.
The Jaspers were given a number to call for details but decided they would not dial it until after making the trip home and assembling other family members. As family and friends gathered, others posted condolence messages on Facebook.
Jasper's girlfriend in North Carolina saw the postings and called the Jaspers.
"She was screaming to me, 'He's not dead! He's not dead!"' Jasper said. "I said, 'How do you know this?' She said, 'I just got off the phone with him.'
Their son called soon after.
A spokesman for the 82nd Airborne Division said Jasper's unit, through its family readiness group, notifies all families of deaths within the unit to prevent undue worry and misinformation. Maj. Brian Fickel said callers are instructed to read from a written script to prevent misinterpretation.
In this case, families were being notified of the death of Sgt. Tyler Judin, a 23-year-old from Winfield, Kansas.
Fickel said the script used Sunday began: "Sgt. Tyler A. Judin ... was killed in action while conducting combat operations in support of bravo troop 473 cav." It went on to say Judin's family had been notified and services would be scheduled.
"I can't speculate on how it was transmitted or how it was received," Fickel said, "but during that process the results speak for themselves. The family believed their son was killed."
The family liaison said she was not able to read the complete message before the call to the Jaspers was terminated, according to Fickel.
"I don't know why they would tell us about someone else's tragedy," said Ray Jasper.
Fickel said the unit is considering starting the scripts with "your son or daughter is fine." Internal jargon like "red line message" will probably go, he said.