Questions surround death of lesbian soldier in Afghanistan

Posted on 04 Jan 2007 at 6:26pm
By Staff and Wire Reports

Lawmakers, gay rights advocates join family of Ciara Durkin in calling on Department of Defense to “‘thoroughly’ investigate suspicious death



Spc. Ciara Durkin joined the National Guard in 2005 after being laid off from her job as an IT specialist. She was slated to come home from Afghanistan in January, and planned to marry her female partner then.

QUINCY, Mass. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has joined with the family of Spc. Ciara (pronounced KEE-ra) Durkin and senators from her home state in calling on the Department of Defense to conduct “a full and thorough investigation” into Durkin’s recent death in Afghanistan.

The Department of Defense says Durkin, a lesbian who was assigned to the 726th Finance Battalion of the Massachusetts Army National Guard, died of injuries suffered in a non-combat related incident at Bagram Airfield, but the statement offered no specifics.

However, Durkin’s sister, Fiona Canavan, told The Boston Globe that military officials have told the family she was found shot in the head inside a secure area at the base. Canavan said her sister was near a church at about 6:30 p.m., after the fall of darkness.

“The family has been informed that she was in the compound, and she was shot in the head,” Canavan told the newspaper. “She was in a secure area of the compound, which, even though the investigation is not complete, leads the family to believe it was what is called friendly fire,” she said
Steve Ralls, director of communications for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said Wednesday, Oct. 3 that Durkin was openly lesbian, but there was no evidence that played a role in her death.

“There are certainly questions surrounding the death, but based on information we have today, and on our conversations with the family, there is no solid indication that Ciara’s death was related to her sexual orientation,” Ralls said in an e-mail to Dallas Voice.

He added, “Ciara had indicated to her family that she had “‘uncovered’ something in her unit perhaps corruption, but that’s unclear that had made others in the unit angry with her. But, to the best of our knowledge, she had not reported to her family or anyone in the military that she had been the target of threats, harassment or intimidation.”

He said Durkin had told her family to demand an investigation if anything were to happen to her.

Canavan also suggested in a statement to the Boston Globe, that her sister’s orientation may have been a factor in her death: “Ciara was a lesbian, and that’s bound to come out,” Canavan said. “It is possible that someone over there found that out, and, you know, maybe they were very homophobic.”

SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis, in a statement released Thursday, Oct. 4, said, “Numerous questions demand that military leaders must search for the answers. Ciara was, by all accounts, a stellar National Guardsman who loved serving our country. Anything but a full and thorough investigation into her untimely death would be a disservice to her memory.”

In a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry requested that the Department of Defense “deploy your staff on this matter immediately, so that the answers and circumstances around Specialist Durkin’s death are uncovered, expeditiously and thoroughly.”

Massachusetts Congressman Bill Delahunt told reporters that his staff met Wednesday, Oct. 3 with Army officials and Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy’s office has contacted Army Secretary Pete Geren to express concern about the murder.

Jarvis said Thursday that SLDN would join those calls for an investigation.

The National Guard had said in a statement on Sunday, Sept. 30, that Durkin was killed “in action” and that the incident was under investigation. A Guard spokesman, Major Jack McKenna, told the Globe that the term “in action” means “that she was killed in Afghanistan and she wasn’t killed at home.

Canavan said her family was meeting with U.S. officials and also speaking with Irish officials about the investigation of the death of her sister, who was born in Ireland and moved to Massachusetts when she was 9 years old.
Canavan said the family’s Army liaison said it could take as long as eight weeks for the investigation to be completed.

Durkin was a 1996 graduate of Fontbonne Academy in Milton, and joined the Army National Guard in October 2005 after getting laid off from her information technology job at Fenway Health, her family told The Patriot Ledger of Quincy.

The family said Durkin was credited last April with helping save the life of a contractor who fell 261/2 feet after slipping off a ladder in the building where she worked. Her duties included making sure the finances of soldiers were in order and that their families were getting benefits.

“She wanted to be somewhere where she could help,” Fiona Canavan told The Ledger. “She felt it was an important job.”

Durkin was scheduled to return to the United States in January, and planned to marry her partner in her home state of Massachusetts, according to SLDN reports.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 5, 2007

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