The stepfather of a recruit training with the Mississippi National Guard is asking why military personnel forced his stepson to exercise in blistering temperatures last month, leading to heatstroke and a coma.
Colby Maury-Rice, 18, was training at Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on Aug. 12, during a heat wave, when he got sick from heatstroke and his heart stopped, Eddie Dockery said Friday in a phone interview.
Dockery, 70, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, said Mississippi National Guard personnel should have never allowed recruits to exercise in scorching August temperatures, and should have been prepared if recruits got sick.
After Maury-Rice fell ill, there were no emergency medical professionals available and no ambulances, Dockery said. His stepson was rushed to the hospital in a passenger van, he said, after his heart stopped for several minutes.
“Colby was physically dead for at least 7 minutes,” Dockery said. “What made me incredibly angry is they had no facilities if anything went wrong. No ambulance. No defibrillator. They had no medical professionals there just in case one of the recruits got sick. And they had no transportation at all to the hospital.”
A spokesperson with the Mississippi National Guard on Friday declined to answer questions about whether recruits should have been training on a hot August day, or about Dockery’s accusations regarding the lack of medical professionals and equipment available if recruits got sick from the weather.
“First and foremost, the Mississippi National Guard extends our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to Private Colby Maury-Rice and his family for health and healing during this time,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “At the present time, further comments cannot be made regarding this incident due to an ongoing investigation.”
The spokesperson did confirm the Mississippi National Guard provided a statement to ABC affiliate WDAM in Laurel, Mississippi.
In that statement, the Mississippi National Guard said a recruit who was training "experienced symptoms of a heat injury" and was helped to a shaded area and "ensured he was drinking enough water."
The statement continued: “Post Security was immediately contacted requesting Ambulatory Assistance. After two minutes waiting on the ambulance, the Soldier’s condition seemed to worsen. Recruiting and Retention Battalion onsite cadre took immediate action loading the Soldier in a government van and escorted him to Forrest General Hospital for advanced medical assistance. The Soldier is currently receiving care at Forrest General Hospital.”
The National Guard spokesperson told NBC News that, following the Aug. 12 incident, the Mississippi National Guard issued a stand-down order to cease all outdoor organizational and individual physical fitness training between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Dockery said he believed recruits were running and carrying an extra 40 pounds of weight around 11 a.m. the day his stepson fell ill.
It was about 84 degrees at that time in Hattiesburg, according to the National Weather Service. That day also marked the fourth consecutive day the high in Hattiesburg reached at least 100, the weather service said.
After his time at Camp Shelby, Maury-Rice planned to go to basic training later that month and then was going to attend combat medic school at Fort Sam Houston, Dockery said.
“I am very proud of him,” Dockery said.
According to the family’s GoFundMe, Maury-Rice began breathing on his own earlier this week. However, his brain has been damaged, and he has a long recovery ahead if he wakes up from the coma, Dockery said.
“I don’t believe the National Guard intended to do this. I don’t think it was anything malicious. I think it was just stupidity,” he said. “They could have just said, ‘Let’s not do this. It’s too hot.’”
Dockery added: “My son is still fighting for his life. He just started breathing on his own. … He can’t go to the bathroom. He can’t eat. Because of them making a stupid mistake, my son is lying flat on his back. I don’t want any family going through what my family has gone through.”