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Army Investigates Mysterious Baby Deaths at Fort Bragg

By Madeline Holler |

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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About Madeline Holler


Madeline Holler

Madeline Holler is a writer, journalist, and blogger. She has written for Babble since the site launched in 2006. Her writing has appeared in various other publications both online and in print, including Salon and True/Slant (now Forbes). A native of the Midwest, Madeline lives, writes, and parents in Southern California, where she's raising two daughters and a son. Read bio and latest posts → Read Madeline's latest posts →

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4 thoughts on “Army Investigates Mysterious Baby Deaths at Fort Bragg

  1. Snarky Mama says:

    Wow. 3 babies who lived in the very same house all died after living there for only a few months and the official Army stance is “Put the babies to sleep on their backs to avoid SIDS.” That is a disgustingly understated reaction to a serious problem.

  2. Michael S. Foreman says:

    These tragedies need answers !!!

    With today’s technology, answers can be found !!!

    My concern is the statistics published concerning deaths and lack of a specific type Testing …

    Further investigation into a break-down of these death statistics needs to be published …
    I’m sure death records further clarify HOW these infant deaths occurred …

    Death by drowning, car accident, disease, or other known cause ???

    ASTM Chamber Testing of drywall samples from the houses ???
    As I personally have asked, discussed, and offered … FREE OF CHARGE !!!

    My firm will ASTM Chamber Testing drywall samples from the houses ???
    My firm will analyze by NDE Diagnosis the structures … FREE OF CHARGE !!!

    All I need is access, and about an hour to hour and a half, for each structure.

    Read this …

    Please let me HELP !!!

    Michael S. Foreman
    Foreman and Associates, Inc.
    Forensic Construction Consultants
    941-955-8111 Office
    941-416-8111 Cell

  3. cheri says:

    Ugh. How horrible.

  4. Debra Quintana says:

    This is not right that the Army has not had more extensive testing of the air quality, or samples of the dry wall sent for testing. The EPA requires lead base testing, but we are failing the men and women that give their lives for us. My grandbaby is on Fort Bragg, and the fear I have for her and her parents are every day, with the unknown. The new house they have been moved into how do we know this is safe. I myself would pay for the testing of their house to know they are safe.

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