South Bend native and LaSalle High School graduate Jessica Rawls (right) was killed April 13 at her Fort Campbell home during apparent domestic violence incident involving her husband, Army Specialist Rico Rawls Jr. He died Monday. (Photo Courtesy of Jessica Rawls family / April 18, 2012)
Sources: Command knew of problems with husband year ago, deployed him anyway
CLARKSVILLE, TENN. — Details emerged on Wednesday regarding the Friday the 13th slaying of Army Reservist Spc. Jessica Rawls and subsequent actions by authorities that stand in stark contrast to Army policy.
Spc. Jessica Rawls, mother of three and an information management technology specialist with the 290th Military Police Brigade headquartered in Nashville, died in her Fort Campbell home of gunshot wounds at around 10 p.m. on Friday.
Her husband, Spc. Rico Rawls of 5th Special Forces Group, led police on an 80-mile high-speed chase from Hamilton County, Tenn., into Bartow County, Ga., where he was stopped using spike strips by the Bartow County Sheriffs Office.
Rico Rawls shot himself before being apprehended and died at about 2 p.m. Monday.
Of Jessica Rawls’ three children, only her youngest, 1-year-old Zoey, was at the residence when the shooting occurred, sleeping in an upstairs front bedroom.
Jessica Rawls’ mother, Dawn Sult-Williams of South Bend, Ind., was not notified of her daughter’s death until nearly four days later, according to posts on her mother’s Facebook page and reports from a fellow soldier at Jessica Rawls’ unit and Rawls’ Fort Campbell neighbor and friend Angie Kitchen, an Army spouse who drives a bus for Fort Campbell’s Warrior Transition Battalion.
Sult-Williams posted the following to her friends on Facebook on Tuesday night, along with a Leaf-Chronicle link to the story of Rico Rawls’ death that was published on the website Tuesday evening:
“Yes. It is true. My daughter was murdered Friday night. … Just in case you are wondering why I have said nothing until now … no one bothered to tell us until today… They “couldn’t find my number”? They have her cell phone. It’s under “Mom”!
A subsequent post alleged a lack of action on behalf of 5th Group prior to Friday’s incident:
“Thank you everyone for your support. But as for my son-in-law Rico … He came back from Iraq a different person … We asked, pleaded, and begged for help for him. No one listened. No one listened and they are trying to cover that fact at this point. ….
“I pray that someone will listen now. Especially since he is the 2nd soldier in 5th group to do this in less than one month! I am not angry at Rico … I am angry at the situation, and I am sad … beyond sad …
The pre-Iraq Rico Rawls would not have done this … Someone needs to listen … And act. Or this will continue to happen.”
The other violent incident involving 5th Group soldiers occurred March 18 when Sgt. 1st Class Frederic N. Moses, 26, was shot in a subdivision off Tiny Town Road near Peachers Mill Road in Clarksville. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has charged Sgt. Benjamin Schweitzer with criminal homicide in the case.
Lack of notification
Kitchen, the Rawls’ neighbor at their Fort Campbell housing area, related details of the incident in an interview on Wednesday, and lambasted Fort Campbell law enforcement officials and 5th Group leaders for the late notification to Jessica Rawls’ mother, which was delivered by a phone call.
“Jessica and her family were treated with ultimate disrespect,” Kitchen said. “Rico Rawls’ unit failed the Army Family Covenant.”
Kitchen said she and other neighbors told a plainclothes Army Criminal Investigation Division officer on Friday night that Jessica Rawls was a soldier serving in a Military Police unit in Nashville. According to a soldier of the 290th MP Brigade, who has asked that his name not be used, the unit was not notified of Jessica Rawls’ death until Tuesday morning, prior to notification of Rawls’ mother.
The soldier said he and others in his Reserve unit became worried when Rawls missed weekend drill, and he drove up to Fort Campbell Tuesday to check on her.
“I pulled up and saw the house was boarded up with a tag on it and got really scared,” said the soldier, who is also a family friend of the Rawls’. “There were candles and flowers – graveyard flowers – at the door. I asked a neighbor if she knew what happened. She told me.
“Needless to say, I didn’t take it very well at all.”
History of problems
The soldier related that the MP’s had been called to the Rawls’ residence last year for domestic violence around Easter, months prior to Rico Rawls’ second deployment in August to Iraq as part of 5th Group.
“I know that several times (Jessica) had gone to his chain of command, saying, ‘Look, (Rico) is having problems – numerous problems – and his command didn’t do anything.
“That bothers me. It bothers me that soldiers aren’t being taken care of.
“I can’t help but be extremely p—-d off at (Rico), but the soldier side of me says that soldier wasn’t taken care of like he should have been.”
According to Kitchen, a staff sergeant in Rico Rawls’ chain of command at 5th Group arrived on the scene of the shooting last Friday night and told her the unit had known of the domestic violence problem since April last year.
“I asked why they hadn’t referred them to family advocacy,” Kitchen said. “He looked right at me and said that the command decided to deploy (Rico) instead.”
“Rico and Jessica were willing to go to counseling last year,” Kitchen said. “Instead, they got another deployment … another stress point.”
Nearly as bad as the late notification of Jessica Rawls’ mother, said Kitchen, was a failure to enact the couple’s family care plan, which she said is mandatory for two married soldiers, detailing what to do with children in the event of deployment or an emergency.
“You have to have a dual family-care plan,” said Kitchen. “The unit knew. (Jessica) was deceased. (Rico) was in custody. But for at least four days, their child was in state custody. I don’t know about today.”
For Kitchen, the big question is why – despite being told of Jessica Rawls’ status as a soldier and despite the high likelihood of a family-care plan on file at both units – was notification to Jessica’s mother so late in coming, and done by phone call?
She answered her own question bitterly. “The number one thing was to cover themselves.”
Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg was contacted at 2 p.m. and informed of the allegations, but did not respond before press time beyond Lt. Col. April Olsen’s statement that the notification of Jessica’s death given to her mother by phone was a violation of Army protocol.
Philip Grey, 245-0719
Military affairs reporter