For the third time in four months, a female soldier based at Fort Bragg is dead, and a husband or lover is charged with murder — leading critics to demand the home base of the Army's elite soldiers exert "control over their troops" and address domestic violence.
Police on Friday charged Sgt. Richard Smith, 26, and Pfc. Mathew Kvapil, 18, with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder only days after Smith's wife was found stabbed to death in a pool of her own blood.
Authorities said Smith hired Pfc. Mathew Kvapil to kill his wife — 29-year-old Sgt. Christina E. Smith — as the couple walked together Tuesday evening in their off-base Fayetteville neighborhood.
"The number of military women being killed in North Carolina in the last eight months is horrific," said retired Army Col. Ann Wright, a former State Department diplomat who once served at Fort Bragg and is now a peace activist. "The Marine Corps and the Army needs to very quickly show leadership and control over their troops."
Smith's death follows the slayings of Spc. Megan Touma, 23, and 2nd Lt. Holley Wimunc, 24. It also comes less than a year after Marine Corps. Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, stationed at North Carolina's Camp Lejeune, was found dead.
In all four cases, authorities have charged a fellow soldier or Marine involved in a relationship with the victim with murder.
"For me, I was thinking, 'No, gosh, not another one,'" said Fayetteville police spokeswoman Theresa Chance. "We have domestic violence issues like every other city. Obviously, the military seems to be targeted lately."
Issue of domestic violence
The Army says the rate of domestic violence in the service is no worse than among civilian families, but critics argue there is a lack of comprehensive data.
The Connecticut-based Miles Foundation, which provides domestic-violence assistance to military wives, has said its caseload has more than quadrupled during wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"How many more deaths is it going to take until they own up that there's a problem?" said Judy Lowe, who helped found the Fayetteville-based Coalition to End Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in the Military.
But officials at Fort Bragg said the deaths are unrelated, regardless of any tragic similarities.
Carol Darby, a spokeswoman for the Army's Special Operations Command, said the Army had no reason to be "overly concerned for (the) personal safety of female soldiers."
She pointed to an array of programs and counseling offered by the Army to aimed at assisting soldiers and family members through family, personal, financial and other issues.
"There are no indicators that we are aware of that pinpoints a trend; this is an anomaly," Darby added. "Unfortunately, when a tragedy such as this one happens there are often times underlying domestic and personal relationship issues within the home."
Both Touma and Lauterbach were in the final months of pregnancies when they were found dead — Touma in a motel bathtub in June, Lauterbach in a backyard fire pit in January. Authorities have said both of the men charged with their deaths were the fathers of their unborn child and married to other women.
Police have not offered a motive in Wimunc's death.
She was reported missing from her apartment in July, and found three days later by crews fighting a brush fire near Camp Lejeune. Her estranged husband was arrested and charged with her death, while a fellow Marine charged with aiding by destroying evidence and providing a false alibi.
Richard Smith initially told police an attacker stabbed his wife in the neck and fled as he chased him. Neighbors said they heard a woman screaming and found Christina Smith dead. Chance said police divers recovered a knife Friday from a nearby creek but gave no more details.
Both Smith and Kvapil face initial court appearances Monday. The military said the Army Criminal Investigation Division at Fort Bragg also was investigating.
Darby said Richard Smith, of Denton, Texas, had returned in June 2007 from 10 months in Iraq.
Kvapil, of Santee, Calif., joined the Army in 2007. Christina Smith, of Mount Orab, Ohio, enlisted in September 2005. Both were graphic artists with the 4th Psychological Operations Group, where Richard Smith was an electronic maintenance technician.
The Army's psychological operations soldiers are trained in conducting "soft power" offensives through leaflets, broadcasts and other means.