This story was first published in the Fayetteville Observer.
A California congresswoman and the family of a decapitated Fort Bragg paratrooper are upset that the Army is considering his death a “cold case.”
Spc. Enrique Roman-Martinez, 21, of Chino, California, was reported missing May 23, 2020, at Cape Lookout National Seashore in Carteret County. His severed head washed ashore six days later.
At the time of his death, Roman-Martinez was a human resource specialist assigned to Headquarters Company, 37th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.
“After exhausting hundreds of leads and thousands of hours of investigation, there are no more credible investigative leads remaining at this time, but the case itself is not ‘closed,’ it is in a cold case status,” Jeffrey Castro, an Army Criminal Investigation Division spokesman, said in an email this week. “As always, if new information pertinent to any of our investigations becomes available, CID can and often does reopen investigations if warranted.”
Roman-Martinez’s family lives in the congressional district of Rep. Norma Torres.
Torres has been in contact with Roman-Martinez’s family since his death and was with them when his partial remains were flown back to California.
“This young man was a hero,” Torres said during a phone interview Thursday. “At 17 years old, he really wanted to serve his country, and had to get permission from his mother to do so … I think that we owe our personnel at the very least and their families the respect of giving them answers.”
Torres wrote an Oct. 19 letter to the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General raising questions about the investigation, along with the concern that there’s been “no justice for Roman-Martinez or his family.”
“I’m not satisfied that the Army CID has done everything in their power to solve this case,” Torres said.
Roman-Martinez’s sister Griselda Martinez spoke to a Univision North Carolina station last month and said that she is angry and disappointed that the case seems to be closed.
Martinez said investigators have told the family they’ve found no evidence in the case, which she believes is because of delays.
She previously told The Fayetteville Observer in May that it took three days for an official search to be launched, and that in that time rain possibly destroyed evidence.
“I feel like no one took it seriously until they found my brother’s remains,” she said in May.
Because the case is still not solved, Martinez told Univision the family hired a private investigator two months ago.
“We are hopeful that he will be able to help us more, much better than the Army,” she said.
Despite the family hiring a private investigator, Martinez said they still want authorities to investigate the case.
Torres said she thinks another official set of eyes should be on the investigation and its processes, too.
“From the delays in reporting this young man as a missing person, to potential jurisdiction issues, to determining who was on site and when divers got in the water to begin to search for the rest of the remains, I think there have been gaps in this investigation,” she said.
Torres said she doesn’t want to hinder the investigation or any future investigations the Army has but said she does want the inspector general to evaluate it.
“If the Army does not have jurisdiction but may have capabilities of investigating a crime … it would probably be a good idea to work with a local agency,” she said.
But in the case of Roman-Martinez, she wants to know who made the call to give the Army jurisdiction of the crime scene, since it was miles off post.
She said she understands that a local agency might not have resources but thinks the FBI or another agency should have been contacted to investigate instead of the Army, which may have a conflict of interest “with seven military personnel that may or may not have had involvement,” Torres said.
She is asking the inspector general to review: the timeline of the investigation including how long it took for investigators to arrive at the scene and when it was determined to use divers; if any logistical or jurisdictional hurdles impacted the speed of the investigation; coordination with other local, state and federal law enforcement; communication with the family and how language barriers were addressed; requirement for soldiers reporting colleague missing; and how the Army treats a person of interest during an investigation.
Authorities announced in December 2020 — nearly seven months after Roman-Martinez’s head was found — that divers were searching waters for evidence and the rest of the remains.
Castro said the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division has a mandatory thorough review process that all cases are subjected to.
“Highly-trained investigators review all cases conducted by field agents to ensure the findings are supported and accurate, and that all possible leads have been properly exhausted,” he said. “This can take time, but is critical to the investigative process.”
An August news release stated that Army CID special agents have coordinated with the FBI, the National Park Rangers, the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Patrol, the Mocksville Police Department, the Carteret County Sheriff’s Office, the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, the North Carolina National Guard, the Armed Forces Medical Examiner and the 82nd Airborne Division.
According to the news release, a specialized task force comprised of CID agents, FBI employees and the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit has executed more than 100 warrants and subpoenas, conducted more than 400 interviews and returned to the island seven times to conduct air, land and sea searches for additional evidence.
Investigators have traveled to Michigan, Texas, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and California for interviews and to follow up on all investigative leads.
There have been searches of evidence from cellphones and vehicles along with more than 130 items analyzed at the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory in Atlanta, Georgia.
None of the items revealed any trace of blood, DNA, or other forensic evidence, the CID news release stated.
Not a missing soldier
Roman-Martinez was last seen alive May 22, 2020, when he was camping with seven other soldiers, the Army CID’s news release stated.
Griselda Martinez told The Fayetteville Observer in May that investigators told the family there doesn’t seem to be a motive for the other soldiers her brother was camping with to harm him.
She questioned why those soldiers waited so long to report her brother missing.
According to the 911 call, the man who reported Roman-Martinez missing on May 23, 2020, told the dispatcher that the group went to bed about midnight.
The caller said he woke up at 8:30 a.m., and that the group searched for Roman-Martinez all day.
A park ranger previously told media that a ranger encountered the group earlier during the day, and they did not mention Roman-Martinez being missing at that time.
“You still don’t do that — especially in the Army,” Griselda Martinez said. “From what’s been explained to me, everyone sticks together and watches out for each other.”
The soldier who called 911 told the dispatcher that the group was concerned Roman-Martinez hurt himself and implied he had suicidal tendencies.
Griselda Martinez said when she heard that, it upset her because her brother was not suicidal and months later an autopsy report revealed that a “somewhat crescent-shaped, incised vs. chop wound” … “about ¾ of an inch deep,” was found on Roman-Martinez’s neck.
The autopsy report notes that the soldiers camping with Roman-Martinez provided no explanation of his death.
The medical examiner wrote that because of the lower half of Roman-Martinez has not yet been found, officials couldn’t definitively say if decapitation was the cause of death or if he died another way.
However, the examiner wrote, “the findings, in this case, are most consistent with death due to homicide.”
In the CID’s August news release, CID special agent Steve Chancellor suggested the death could have been intentional or unintentional, using the example of someone running over a person with a boat while they were in the water.
Torres said Roman-Martinez’s body was mutilated.
“There were seven people camping with him,” she said. “You’re going to tell me nobody saw or heard anything? I refuse to accept that as an answer.”
She said he should be home with his family planning his next career move.
“Instead, we buried partial remains,” Torres said.
Castro said special agents working on the case are personally invested in finding the truth about what happened to Roman-Martinez.
“They will not let this case go unsolved,” he said.
Torres, whose son is an Air Force veteran, said she refuses to have Roman-Martinez’s case placed in a box and not looked at again unless someone comes forward with information.
“If this were your son or daughter, you would be in the same position as this family demanding answers and seeking answers where there hasn’t been any,” Torres said. “There should be no stone unturned to find out what happened to this man.”
Castro said the $50,000 reward for information about Roman-Martinez’s death is still active.
Anyone with information about his death is asked to contact Army special agents at 910-396-8777 or the Military Police Desk at 910-396-1179.
They can also anonymously submit information online.
Torres encouraged anyone with information to also consider contacting their local law enforcement agency or to reach out to her office.
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