Two female U.S. Army soldiers were found dead in the past week in Texas, extending a troubling streak of military-related deaths into the new year.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jessica Mitchell and Pfc. Asia M. Graham died in separate incidents still under investigation by military officials and police. Graham was found dead in her military barracks at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas on New Year's Eve, while Mitchell was found shot to death along a Texas interstate just hours into the new year.
The deaths come less than a month after Army officials announced that 14 officers and soldiers had been fired or suspended at a military base in Fort Hood, Texas in response to the staggering number of soldiers who had died at the base last year. According to The Associated Press, a total of 25 soldiers died at Fort Hood during the year as the result of suicide, homicide or accidents--including the high-profile murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, who authorities believe was bludgeoned to death by a fellow soldier.
Mitchell and Graham were stationed in Texas, but not at Fort Hood.
Mitchell was discovered dead by San Antonio Police just after 2 a.m. Friday in her vehicle which was stalled in the left lane of a Texas interstate, according to a statement from police obtained by Oxygen.com.
Police arrived and discovered “multiple gunshots to the driver’s side door and window” of Mitchell’s white Dodge Challenger.
Mitchell didn’t have a pulse and was transported to University Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Military officials said Mitchell, a drill sergeant assigned to the U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence on JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, had been on holiday leave when she was discovered with “multiple gunshot wounds,” along I-10, according to a statement obtained by Oxygen.com from the United States Air Force Joint Base San Antonio.
“We are devastated by the tragic loss of Drill Sergeant Jessica Mitchell,” said Maj. Gen. Dennis LeMaster, who serves as the commanding general for the Medical Center of Excellence. “Our sincere condolences go out to her family and friends. We are focused on supporting Drill Sergeant Mitchell’s family as well as her soldiers during this extremely difficult time.”
Police have not said whether they believe Mitchell—who had worked as a dental specialist—had been targeted in the deadly shooting.
Just hours before she was killed, Mitchell had been actively posting to social media, her family told local station WOAI-TV.
“It was the same video of her party and having a good time being Jessica, you know, ringing in the new year and then that’s, you know that shortly after it, you know, it was just taken from her for no reason,” her sister Ashley Mitchell said.
Ashley is now left wondering what happened to her sister in the hours that followed her posts and is hopeful that anyone who might have observed the deadly shooting will come forward.
“Why would anybody want to do this?” she asked. “Why? Why do people do such heinous acts of crime for no reason? You know, like, human life is not material, it cannot be replaced.”
Jessica Mitchell’s father, Mayo Mitchell, said his daughter had been a fifth-generation member of the military and had been proud to serve her country.
“I told all my children, I want you to do better than what I have done,” he said. “She and my children have so far and she wanted to be the best that she can be in her military career. But that was cut short.”
Jessica Mitchell leaves behind a 10-year-old son.
“She was a beautiful, beautiful woman. She had a son and he’s without his mom and I just want to give my prayers to his and to her family, to her son, to her son’s father,” childhood friend Francesca Toby told the outlet.
Jessica’s death comes just years after her younger brother, Justice Mitchell, was shot to death at the age of 18 in 2017.
“It’s heartbreaking because what this did is reopen the wound and it made it worse,” her father told WOAI-TV. “It is hard when you lose one child from murder. But it’s even harder when you lose two of your children from murder.”
Meanwhile, Graham was discovered unresponsive in her military barracks on New Year’s Eve. Military officials said she was later pronounced dead by the fort’s Department of Emergency Services, according to local station WTVD-TV.
The circumstances of her death remain under investigation, officials said. There were no immediate signs of foul play, ABC News reports.
Graham—who is originally from Cherryville, North Carolina—had served at Fort Bliss since December 2019 and was assigned to the I-501st Attack Battalion, 1st Armored Division Combat Aviation Brigade.
“The Iron Eagle team is deeply saddened by the loss of our friend and teammate,” said Col. Geoffrey Whittenberg, who commands the brigade. “Pfc. Graham was a valued member of the Iron Eagle team and did an outstanding job for this Batallion.”
Whittenberg said her loss will be felt throughout the Army.
“We lost a skilled human resource specialist who wanted nothing more than to serve her country and her battle buddies,” he said.
During her time in service, she was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and Army Service Ribbon.
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