Published January 21, 2014
A U.S. diplomat said he tried three times to stop doctors from performing an autopsy on the body of a Marine who had killed himself at the U.S. embassy in Greece, and that he ordered an immediate investigation after the body was sent home without a heart.
Marine Sgt. Brian LaLoup, 21, shot himself in the head during a party in August at the U.S. Embassy compound in Athens, where he worked on a security detail. The case made news when Greek doctors insisted on performing an autopsy on him and then shipped his body home to his parents in Chester County, Pa., missing the heart. Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., demanded an explanation from former U.S. Ambassador to Greece Daniel Bennett Smith, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Tuesday.
"As a father of three sons, including one serving in the U.S. Army, I have the greatest sympathy for Mr. and Mrs. LaLoup and what they have gone through," Smith answered Toomey in an e-mail.
Immediately after shooting himself, LaLoup was taken to a government-run Athens hospital where he died a few hours later. Six days after his death, the state-run hospital performed an unauthorized autopsy, according to the family's lawsuit, filed two months ago in Pennsylvania.
Smith, who is poised to become the leader of the State Department's intelligence and research arm, sided with the Marine's family that the autopsy was improperly done, the Inquirer report said. He said he tried to block the autopsy three times and even appealed to the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Since the heart was reported missing, Smith said he demanded an "immediate and thorough" investigation until his last day at the post in August, the report said. The report points out that typically the remains of service members who die overseas are sent back to the U.S. for any investigation.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the former U.S. ambassador to Greece's letter was sent in the form of an email to the Marine's family from Toomey's office. Toomey asked the questions prior to Smith's confirmation hearings later in the year.
LaLoup's parents said they discovered weeks after the funeral that his body was sent home without a heart and that the Department of Defense later gave them somebody else's heart in its place. They say they learned about their son's missing heart by chance. They were filling out paperwork weeks after the funeral when a military official with the file let it slip, Beverly LaLoup said. "I was absolutely devastated," she said at the time. "I was hysterical. I was running around the house, hyperventilating."
The family also says a heart arrived months later and the Department of Defense and Greek authorities claimed it was their son's. However, a months-long wait for DNA results proved otherwise.
The LaLoups sued the Department of Defense along with the Navy, which handled the family's inquiries. The family is also suing the Greek government.
Christos Failadis, a spokesman at the Greek Embassy in Washington, D.C., had previously said that the heart was kept for toxicology tests. He did not respond to questions from the paper. The U.S. State Department reportedly said it is continuing to investigate.
The Associated Press contributed to this report