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Friday, June 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

U.S. Families Sue Army for Terror Killings

SEATTLE (CN) - Parents of two teenagers murdered by active-duty soldiers sued the Army for letting the terrorist group "form and fester within its ranks at Fort Stewart, Georgia."

The killers, Pvt. Isaac Aguigui, Pvt. Christopher Salmon and Sgt. Anthony Peden are all serving life sentences for murder. Pfc. Michael Burnett pleaded guilty to manslaughter. They are not named as defendants.

Their gang, called FEAR (Forever Enduring Always Ready) shot and killed Tiffany York, 17, and her boyfriend Michael Roark, 19, in 2011 to prevent exposure of the group, which planned to poison Washington's apple orchards, bomb a park in Georgia and assassinate President Barack Obama, according to the lawsuit and to extensive reporting on the case.

York's parents Brenda Thomas and Timothy York and Roark's parents Tracy Jahr and W. Brett Roark sued the United States for wrongful death and negligence.

Michael Roark was a former soldier who served with the men. He knew about the militia and was killed with York because they feared he would tell authorities, the parents say in the lawsuit.

"Army officials recklessly allowed FEAR to form and fester within its ranks at Fort Stewart, Georgia, despite abundant signs that Pvt. Aguigui and his cohorts were dangerous and mentally unstable soldiers in desperate need of arrest and treatment," the complaint states.

The families say Aguigui was the leader. "He targeted impressionable or troubled soldiers at Fort Stewart, Georgia with an anti-federalist message and bold, violent plans. FEAR's supposed objective was 'to give the government back to the people' through a paramilitary coup." Their ultimate aim was "to kill the President of the United States," according to the complaint.

Aguigui decided to kill Roark because he knew about the group's plans, the complaint states.

"Fearing that Roark might report FEAR's activities to law enforcement authorities, Pvt. Aguigui and other FEAR members lured Roark and York to the woods of south Georgia on December 5, 2011 on the premise of going 'night shooting' with tracer ammunition obtained by Pvt. Aguigui," the complaint states.

"In reality, according to statements by Pvt. Aguigui and other confessing FEAR members, Pvt. Aguigui planned to murder Roark and York. That decision was made at the home of Pvt. Salmon, on base at Fort Stewart. Pvt. Aguigui specifically ordered the murder of York to traumatize Roark prior to his execution and to protect FEAR against the possibility that York knew about their plans."

The families say the murders could have been prevented had the Army conducted a proper investigation of the death of Aguigui's wife in July 2011, and charged him with murder at the time. He was convicted in March of murdering his pregnant wife.

Aguigui funded the militia's activities, purchasing a huge cache of weapons, using proceeds from his wife's $500,000 insurance policy, the families say.

Evidence "overwhelmingly indicated" that Aguigui murdered his wife Deirdre, but the Army botched the investigation and a rookie pathologist failed to rule the death a homicide, according to the complaint.

The families cite a long list of damning evidence in the murder, including a text Aguigui sent to his ex-girlfriend the day of his wife's death saying, "We'll have plenty of money," Aguigui's comments to several people expressing his desire to kill his wife, authorities believing the crime scene was "staged," and blunt-force injuries all over her body.

"Despite this wealth of incriminating evidence, the Army negligently failed even to classify Sgt. Deirdre Aguigui's death as a homicide, much less arrest and prosecute Pvt. Isaac Aguigui for her murder, until April 3, 2013 - sixteen months after Pvt. Aguigui ordered the murders of Roark and York. On that date, the Army arrested Pvt. Aguigui based on evidence that was known or available to the Army prosecutors long before December 5, 2011, the date of Roark and York's murders. Accordingly, had the Army acted reasonably on the evidence in its possession, the murders of Roark and York could have been avoided," the complaint states.

Many soldiers at Fort Stewart knew about the militia, but "Aguigui and FEAR operated with complete impunity," according to the complaint.

"According to one soldier interviewed by CID [Criminal Investigation Division], the entire intelligence group in Pvt. Aguigui's squadron knew about his plans, and many were willing to be a part of them. None of Pvt. Aguigui's fellow soldiers reported his terroristic plans or illegal conduct up the chain of command, however."

The families claim the militia members had histories of disciplinary and mental health problems and "should have been interdicted, treated, or discharged long before they took part in the murders of Michael Roark and Tiffany York."

The families seek damages for "the full value of Michael Roark's and Tiffany York's lives," special damages, and lost wages and funeral.

They are represented by Gerald Derevyanny with Adler Vermillion, of Brooklyn, N.Y.

The most thorough report on the gang appears in the May 26 New Yorker, in an article by Nadya Labi called "Rogue Element."

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