Idaho parents sue for answers from Air Force about death of 19-year-old daughter
BOISE, Idaho — The grieving parents of a 19-year-old Idaho woman who died serving her country thousands of miles from home say the U.S. Air Force won't give them information about the circumstances of her death.
Airman 1st Class Kelsey Sue Anderson of Orofino died June 9, 2011, at Andersen Air Force Base on the island of Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean 3,300 miles west of Hawaii. The military has reported she committed suicide.
But Chris and Adelia Sue Anderson, her parents, filed a lawsuit last month in U.S. District Court to force the Air Force to respond to their Freedom of Information Act request seeking more information about how their daughter died.
The Andersons say their daughter, an avid soccer player and horseback rider who worked in her hometown's flower shop before joining the military, was unhappy with her job as a security guard on Guam but neither distraught nor depressed in their final contacts days before her death. The arrival of an Air Force colonel at their home, accompanied by local sheriff's officers from Clearwater County, to relay the terrible news was a bolt from the blue, they say.
"We just want to know what happened," said Chris Anderson, who with his wife runs a hunting outfitting business in northcentral Idaho's forests, in an interview Wednesday. "We don't care if it's good or bad, we just want closure so we can get on with our lives. It's been two years with no answers."
According to their federal lawsuit, the U.S. Air Force told the Andersons in May 2012 an investigation into their daughter's death was complete.
They expected to quickly receive a report about what happened in an aircraft maintenance hangar that housed two B-2 bombers. That's where they'd been told their daughter's body was found the morning of June 9 in a locked stall of a second-floor women's bathroom, the apparent victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound from her own service weapon.
Kelsey had been on Guam less than five months.
When no documents arrived by August, however, her parents contacted Idaho U.S. Sen. Jim Risch and filed a Freedom of Information Act request with military offices in Quantico, Va.
Risch's office received a letter from an Air Force colonel in September, saying the investigation into Anderson's death had been closed but that it could take six months before her parents received a response.
"Most requests involve the loss of loved ones, sexual assaults, and other sensitive matters," wrote Air Force Col. John M. Larson to Risch, adding to ensure fairness, such information requests were processed on a "first-in, first-out" basis.
Months passed, however, and the Andersons say they heard nothing. The Air Force didn't respond to a formal appeal they filed in May, either, according to their complaint. Now, they say, the Air Force is violating federal law by failing to provide them with information — or tell them why it's exempt from disclosure.
"They basically ignore us, like we don't exist," Chris Anderson said. "We're her parents. We have the right to have an answer."
Contacted by The Associated Press, Air Force officials said requests about the case must come from Kelsey Sue Anderson's family.
"Please have either party contact our office to discuss the status of their case," wrote Adriane Paris, from the Air Force's FOIA Public Liaison Office in Virginia, on Tuesday.
Risch aides were unaware the matter remains unresolved and pledged to contact the Air Force again, if Anderson's parents want additional help. "We can certainly go back in and inquire on the case," said Brad Hoaglun, the senator's spokesman in Boise.
On Wednesday, Adelia Sue Anderson recalled last seeing her daughter at Christmas in 2010, two months before she shipped out to Guam. Though Guam would be 17 time zones and worlds away from Orofino, Kelsey was looking forward to its warm climate and beaches.
She had a plan. After winning $72,000 in college GI Bill assistance, she told her parents she wanted to serve her country for four years and then go to college, possibly to earn a degree as a veterinarian's assistant. It was also a chance for her to write a new chapter in the family's history of military service: Her father, uncles and grandfathers had served.
"She was the first girl, between my family and the Anderson family, who ever went into the service," Adelia Sue Anderson said. "She wanted to put her time in, get her money for an education, and then go on with her life."
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