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Army Investigates Mysterious Baby Deaths at Fort Bragg

chinese drywall, sids

Are new construction and cheap materials to blame for a dozen Army base deaths?

With the death of a four-month-old last month at Fort Bragg, the number of baby deaths at the Army base in just four years reached 12. The baby boy wasn’t suffering from any illnesses and was fine one minute on the morning of Feb. 24. The next minute, though, he was no longer breathing.

According to the The News & Observer, the Army has been investigating mysterious baby deaths going back to 2007, when Jaden Willis, a healthy two-month-old, died suddenly. His mother Pearline Sculley, still doesn’t know why her baby died, though his death certificate lists Sudden Infant Death Syndrome as the cause.

But after two other babies died in the same home, Sculley just isn’t buying it.

Investigators have reviewed medical records and autopsy reports of the now dozen deaths at Fort Bragg. They have also performed countless environmental tests in the homes of some of the families whose children died. No common cause has been found.

But Sculley strongly suspects it has something to do with the house they were living in. It was part of a housing improvement project on the base that began in 2004.

The military says they turned up no evidence that Army housing played a role in the deaths, though in a single home — the one where Sculley used to live — three infant deaths have occurred.

Some people suspect drywall imported from China is to blame. Picerne Military Housing LLC of Rhode Island, the private company that won a $4 billion construction contract for the base, claims they only used US-made drywall was used at their sites. However, construction on the base coincided with a housing boom in 2004 as well as post-Katrina reconstruction, all of which resulted in a major drywall shortage around the country.

In other states, complaints have been filed with the Consumer Product Safety Commission over smells, respiratory illnesses and deaths residents in newly constructed homes suspect has been caused by cheap, unregulated Chinese drywall. In North Carolina, at Fort Bragg, the CPSC worked with the Army’s Criminal Investigative Command on the baby deaths, testing the walls and ceilings for construction materials which may have caused the problems. Though they turned up corrosion, results of their investigation also concluded that chemicals in the houses did not cause Jaden Willis or any of the other babies to die.

Sculley and others at Fort Bragg still believe the new housing is to blame and with good reason. After her son’s death, Sculley moved her family to a different home on the base. The next family to move into that same townhouse not only lost their 2-month-old son, but also a baby in their extended family. From The News & Observer:

The mother told WRAL-TV thebaby had been sick for weeks – congested, coughing and vomiting – improving only when he was hospitalized for several days. When he returned to the house, she has said, he fell ill again.

After his death, the family was still living in the house when relatives came to visit with their 7-month-old daughter. The child died in July, while they were there.


Fort Bragg officials also say that the number of infant deaths at the Army base between 2007 and 2009 — 5.3 for every 1,000 births — is within the normal range and also below the state’s 2009 average of 7.9 per 1,000 births and Cumberland County’s 9.5 per 1,000 births of that same year. About 6,200 families constituting 18,000 people live at Fort Bragg.

Army officials stand by their investigation. They continue to remind families to put infants to sleep on their backs to minimize risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Photo: USACE via flickr

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