Houston seaman’s aunt says source claims suspect feared being outed by her nephew
HOUSTON — The aunt of August Provost, a bisexual Navy seaman from Houston found murdered at Camp Pendleton last month, told Dallas Voice this week that the family has received information suggesting that her nephew’s killer is a gay sailor who somehow feared being outed by Provost.
Rose Roy, of Beaumont, the sister of Provost’s father, said in a phone interview Tuesday, July 14 that she’s "not at liberty" to identify the source who provided the information to the family. But Roy said the source told the family Provost had a heated argument with the suspect a week before his murder, and that the sailor now being held as a person of interest by the Navy has a history of mental illness.
"This guy went the extra mile to make sure that my nephew would never be able to speak about his [the killer’s] sexuality," Roy said. "My nephew died for reasons other than what the military is saying."
Neither Provost’s other family members nor his partner, identified as Kaether Cordero of Houston, could be reached for comment this week.
Roy’s latest statements marked a departure from previous assertions by her and other family members that Provost’s murder was an anti-gay hate crime.
Provost complained about being harassed because of his sexual orientation in the months prior to his death, his family has said. Some LGBT activists have speculated that Provost’s murder is tied to "don’t ask, don’t tell," the ban on gay servicemembers that could have deterred him from reporting the harassment to superiors.
Provost, 29, was found dead in the early morning hours of June 30 inside the shack where he’d been standing guard as a sentry for the Assault Craft Unit 5 compound at Camp Pendleton, Calif. The Navy has said Provost’s killer shot him multiple times and then lit a fire to destroy evidence.
Capt. Matt Brown, a spokesman for Navy Region Southwest in San Diego, declined to discuss the military’s ongoing investigation of Provost’s death in detail this week. The person of interest is not being identified by the Navy and has not yet been charged with any crime, Brown said.
"Right now we don’t have any information to suggest that it was a hate crime, nor do we have any information that would link the crime to gang activity or terrorist activity," Brown told Dallas Voice, echoing his previous statements to the media. "A sailor is still being held, clearly tied to the commission of this crime based on physical evidence that our investigators have received to date and also the individual’s own statements."
Brown earlier told CNN that the person standing watch at the sentry station that day likely would have been killed regardless of who it was. U.S. Rep. Bob Filner, a Democrat from San Diego, has said the Navy told his office that Provost was killed by a man who was "storming Camp Pendleton."
"What I know about the murder is what the Navy so far has told us, which is not very much," Filner told Dallas Voice. "I think they ought to be far more open and far more in detail. They keep saying they know it’s not a hate crime, but they don’t give me enough information for me to agree with that or not. If they don’t do it right, we will have an independent congressional inquiry. There are several of us in Congress who are calling for that, and we’ll figure out a way to do it if we need to."
Filner added that while it’s too soon to say whether Provost’s death is directly tied to DADT, the seaman’s murder reflects "the real tragicness and the emptiness" of the policy. For example, Filner said Cordero learned of Provost’s death from a newspaper reporter because listing a same-sex partner as next of kin would violate DADT.
"The whole ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy is based around secrecy, and if you can’t be open and honest, and people can’t express opinions about it, repressed violence will have its day," Filner said. "The abolition of that would prevent either this happening or certainly the questions around it and allow for a more respectful notification when something tragic happens."
Among those in Congress who’ve joined the call for a thorough inquiry into Provost’s death is Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, who stood alongside the murdered seaman’s family this week for a press conference in Houston. During the press conference, Provost’s mother, Melanie Provost, said the Navy initially informed her only that her son had been found unconscious in the guard shack and later died. Melanie Provost said she didn’t learn he’d been shot and burned until she heard it on TV.
"This death appears bizarre, and more facts need to be uncovered," Jackson Lee said at the press conference. "I’m appalled and outraged at the lack of facts that have been given to this family."
In addition to members of Congress, the case is being closely watched by several LGBT advocacy groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, the National Black Justice Coalition and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
"I don’t think we have enough information about the situation yet to make that statement," HRC senior counsel Cristina Finch said this week when asked whether she believes Provost’s murder is tied to DADT. "What I will say is that ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is a discriminatory law that needs to end. The military is all about honor, and ironically it’s the one place where you’re told to lie about who you are. … Absolutely we continue to monitor the situation and make sure that the military conducts a thorough and impartial investigation."
Dave Gainer, a board member for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network who lives in Tarrant County, created a memorial page in honor of Provost on Facebook shortly after his death.
"The death of Seaman Provost was particularly hard on me because it happened on my watch [as an SLDN board member]," said Gainer, a former chief master sergeant in the Air Force who came out as gay after he left service.
"This is a little selfish I suppose, but I think the gay patriots are giving more of a service than our straight counterparts because we give up more to serve than they do," Gainer said about why he created the Facebook page. "I think the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender servicemembers are giving just a little more, and they deserve at least equal recognition."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 17, 2009.