FORT BRAGG, N.C. – The military is investigating the murders of four Fort Bragg soldiers’ wives, all of whom were apparently killed by their husbands in the last six weeks.
At issue is whether the slayings were in part the result of wartime-deployment stress. Fort Bragg officials say they are looking closely at all of the cases, trying to determine whether the hardships of military life and the separation of spouses contributed.
"One case of child abuse or spouse abuse or one homicide is one too many, and it's a continuous effort on all our parts to do as much as we can to prevent it from happening again," said Col. Tad Davis, Fort Bragg's garrison commander.
In three of the cases, the husbands who investigators say killed their wives were special operations servicemen who had been stationed in Afghanistan. Two soldiers apparently committed suicide after murdering their wives.
The string of family deaths started June 11. Fayetteville police said that was when Sgt. 1st Class Rigoberto Nieves — a soldier in the 3rd Special Forces Group who had been back from Afghanistan just two days — shot his wife, Teresa, and then himself in their bedroom.
Officials say Nieves had requested leave to resolve personal problems.
Sheriff's investigators said Jennifer Wright was strangled June 29. Her husband, Master Sgt. William Wright of the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion, reported her missing two days later. Then on July 19, he led investigators to her body in Hoke County and was charged with murder.
Wright, who had been back from Afghanistan for about a month, had moved out of his house and was living in the barracks.
On the same day that Wright was arrested, Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Floyd shot his wife, Andrea, then killed himself in their Stedman home.
The Fayetteville Observer reported that Floyd was a member of Delta Force, the secretive anti-terrorism unit based at Fort Bragg. He returned from Afghanistan in January, officials said. The couple's three children were in Ohio visiting relatives at the time of the deaths.
"It's very much a tragedy," said Maj. Gary Kolb, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, to which Nieves, Wright and Floyd were all assigned. "I wish it would be easy enough to pinpoint one thing and say, 'This will never happen again.' Each one needs to be looked at individually, and we need to let soldiers know there are resources out there to help him solve his problems."
Kolb said the Special Operations Command will look at the programs in place to help soldiers.
"We're not looking to blame anyone for anything," he said.
On deployments, chaplains provide spiritual guidance and counseling to soldiers, he said. Before soldiers return home, chaplains talk to them about making the transition back to home life. Chaplains can also talk to spouses before their husbands come home and then can meet with couples after the homecoming.
Kolb questioned any attempt to link the family killings to Afghanistan.
"Can you say that going to Afghanistan caused this?" he said. "It's a reach."
Fort Bragg is the Army's headquarters for Special Forces and special operations soldiers, and hundreds have been deployed in the fight against terrorism.
Jimmy Dean, a retired Green Beret master sergeant, said the majority of Special Forces soldiers are seasoned professionals whose wives are used to long deployments. Under normal circumstances, Green Berets can be deployed four to six months out of a year.
"There are thousands of deployments, literally thousands," he said.
Dean believes husbands and wives need to learn to work out the difficulties of separation.
"If you talk to a chaplain before or after, it doesn't do a damn thing," he said. "It's each individual, and most individuals can handle it."
But since the slayings and suicides, some families are reaching out for help. Yvonne Qualantone, president of the 3rd Special Forces Group's Family Readiness Group, said her phone has been ringing a lot since the killings. The organization is a support group for families in the unit.
"I'm getting a lot of phone calls, and we're trying to make sure everyone is getting the right information," she said.
She said stress levels are a little higher than normal. Since the killings, she said, some women who have been having problems with their husbands have called wanting to know to whom they should talk before things get worse.
"We're giving our chaplains a run for their money," she said. "And just kind of leaving the lines open so we have people to contact."
Qualantone said that having husbands in Special Forces is hard on the wives, and they learn to be self-sufficient. "I think it takes a stronger woman than most," she said. "Because you are on your own quite a bit."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.