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Marine Corps sidelines Parris Island drill instructors after death of recruit

Raheel Siddiqui, 20, died at the Marine Corps recruit depot at Parris Island, S.C., while in initial training. (Courtesy of the Siddiqui family)

The Marine Corps has removed an undisclosed number of drill instructors from their regular duties at its recruit depot at Parris Island, S.C., and launched additional training for staff there as it investigates the death of a recruit who had been in training less than two weeks.

The drill instructors were reassigned to other duties at Parris Island, and the action was taken before the removal Monday of the commanding officer and top enlisted Marine in the Recruit Training Regiment, said Capt. Gregory Carroll, a service spokesman. The drill instructors will not train recruits while parallel investigations by the service and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) continue.

“As the investigations continue, if warranted, additional actions may be taken,” Carroll said.

Marine Corps ousts Parris Island recruit training commander after death of recruit

It marks the first time that the Marine Corps has disclosed the removal of rank-and-file staff from their jobs following the March 18 death of Raheel Siddiqui, 20, of Taylor, Mich. Reassignments are routine during investigations. The disclosure underscores how much the incident has affected Parris Island, which trains all female Marine recruits and all male recruits who enlist east of the Mississippi River.

The case has generated national media attention and an inquiry from Rep. Debbie Dingell (D.-Mich.), whose district includes Siddiqui’s hometown of Taylor. The recruit, a Pakistani American who graduated first in his high school class, wanted to work on military aircraft.

Family representatives have said that Marine officials told the Siddiqui family that he passed out in training and was revived, and responded by running away and jumping over a stairwell railing. He fell about 40 feet to his death.

On Monday, the service removed Marine Col. Paul D. Cucinotta, the No. 2 officer at Parris Island, and his senior enlisted adviser, Sgt. Maj. Nicholas Deabreu. Maj. Gen. James Lukeman, the head of Training and Education Command at Quantico, Va., made the decision after determining that they had not followed undisclosed procedures, Marine officials said.

Those removals followed the March 31 dismissal of Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon, who oversaw 3rd Recruit Battalion, the unit that was training Siddiqui when he died. Cucinotta did so after allegations of unspecified misconduct were substantiated against Kissoon by the Marine Corps inspector general, but Cucinotta was notified Feb. 29, a month beforehand. Siddiqui began training March 7.

Nabih Ayad, a Michigan lawyer assisting the Siddiqui family, said that NCIS investigators visited the family this week and asked whether the younger Siddiqui had any history of suicidal behavior. They said he did not, the attorney added. Siddiqui said early in training that he was considering taking his own life, but later changed his mind and was cleared for additional training after a mental health screening process, Marine officials have said.

Ayad said he is concerned about the treatment Siddiqui received in his last hours of life. Investigators told the family that witnesses said he was having medical problems when he passed out and was struggling to breathe. A drill instructor smacked him to revive him, those witnesses said, according to Ayad.

Investigators told the Siddiqui family that numerous witnesses saw him struggling to breathe, but only one said he saw him jump over the railing. Ayad questioned whether that is what happened.

“There’s a whole bunch of questions we have, and right now it’s not clear what is damage control,” he said.

Meanwhile, the commanding general of Parris Island, Brig. Gen. Terry Williams, was expected to rotate out Friday and take a new assignment at the Pentagon. His reassignment was already planned when the investigation was launched, Marine officials said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story included the incorrect first name for Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon.