US Embassy Greece: What Happened to Sgt Laloup’s Heart? Parents Seeking Answers File Suit

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— Domani Spero

According to a lawsuit filed by his parents, U.S. Marine Sgt. Brian LaLoup, 21, died after he attended an off-duty embassy party, on August 12, 2012. Sgt. LaLoup served as part of the Marine Corps Security Group assigned to the American Embassy in Athens, Greece. During the party, Sgt. LaLoup reportedly told a fellow service member that he was thinking about suicide and was reported to the Detachment Commander.  The lawsuit alleged that the Detachment Commander “failed to follow appropriate protocols and procedures, which required him to obtain supervision and medical treatment for Sgt. LaLoup, and instead decided to take him out for more drinking. Prior to leaving and despite being visibly intoxicated and distraught, Sgt. LaLoup was allowed to pass the guard at the entry to the chancery and enter the response room. The chancery, which had been left unsecured, is where weapons were stored. Thereafter, according to military reports, Sgt. LaLoup shot himself in the head with an embassy service weapon.”

Sergeant LaLoup enlisted in the United States Marine Corps on May 8, 2008 and was on continuous active duty from February 9, 2009 until the date of his death.  Prior to his assignment in Greece, Sgt. Laloup was posted at the US Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa.  Sgt. LaLoup reported for embassy security duty at Embassy Athens on May 20, 2012, On August 12, 2012, the United States Marne Corps informed Beverly and Craig LaLoup that their son had passed away.

The lawsuit alleged that at the time his body was returned to the United States, Plaintiffs, Sgt. LaLoup’s parents, Craig and Beverly LaLoup, were given knowingly false information about Sgt. LaLoup’s remains and as a result, “the LaLoups unwittingly buried their son without his heart.” According to Mrs. LaLoup:

1St SGT Dixon was at our home at 106 Lloyd Avenue, Downingtown, PA to have us sign more papers. During this visit, I asked him what would happen if more of Brian’s scalp was recovered. Would it be returned to us? He looked at me funny as he started to go thru his folder and said “Ma’am, what are you talking about?” I replied, the missing scalp parts. What would be done if more was recovered. He replied to me, as he was still searching for something in his folder, that the scalp is not what was missing. He even stated that he had just gone thru the folder before he came to make sure he was familiar with everything and did not recall seeing anything about missing scalp parts. We all sat there for a few moments as he continued to go thru his folder. Finally, he found what he was looking for and said, “Ma’am, that is not what was missing.” “I stated, what do you mean?” He extended to me a piece of paper as he stated it was his heart that was missing asked him why were we told it was parts of his scalp. His reply was, “that they were not going to tell us because that is not something you tell a grieving mother.” I read the document he had handed me and sure enough, it was a letter from the Dover Mortuary to Marines Casualty Office informing them “remains of the above individual are incomplete. Please obtain subsequent recovery instructions from the next of kin. Remains Summary: Non-intact body. Embalmed and autopsied in Greece. Missing heart”. It was validated by Jairo E. Fortalatin, Investigator and Authorized by AbuBakr Marzouuk, Col USAF, MC, FS.

The complaint further alleges that “in an attempt to pacify” the Laloups, the defendants and the Greek government “had a heart shipped to Dover claiming that it was Sgt. LaLoup’s missing heart” but that DNA testing revealed that the heart was not Sgt. LaLoup’s heart.

Philadelphia’s Metro reports that a letter shared through U.S. Sen. Patrick Toomey’s office quotes the then U.S. Ambassador to Greece Daniel Smith about the efforts made to prevent an autopsy.

Smith told the hospital not to autopsy LaLoup’s body, and also notified the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, according to the letter. When Smith’s staff requested the hospital release LaLoup’s body on Aug. 16, they declined and said they would autopsy the body. Smith says he called the Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chief of Staff of the Foreign Minister insisting there be no autopsy, and on Aug. 17 called again to say that an autopsy would violate the Vienna Convention.

The autopsy took place on Aug. 18. After the LaLoups told Smith on Sept. 18 that Sgt. LaLoup’s body was missing its heart, his staff interviewed the physician who performed the autopsy.

Ambassador Daniel Smith was appointed chief of mission to the U.S. Embassy in Athens in 2010.  In October last year, President Obama nominated him to be the next Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (State/INR). He is currently awaiting Senate confirmation.

Last month, the Laloups reportedly added the Greek government and the Athens hospital that conducted the autopsy to the list of defendants to their lawsuit. Philly.com’s report here includes a quote from the spokesman of the  Armed Forces Medical Examiner System:

“Remains of most U.S. service members who die overseas are sent to the United States for autopsy, said Paul Stone, a spokesman for the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System. However, some countries – including Greece – maintain the right in formal agreements with the U.S. military to investigate such deaths using their own medical staff.”

The complaint is  LALOUP et al v. UNITED STATES DEPT. OF DEFENSE et al, Pennsylvania Eastern District Court, 2:2013cv07124.

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