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In July Kari Lydersen first reported in the Reader the story of slain airman Blanca Luna and Luna's mother's quest for information about her brutal and mysterious death at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas. The air force had been cagey about the details, first reporting that Luna's death was an apparent homicide, then indicating the possibility of suicide, even though she was found with a bruised forehead and multiple stab wounds.
Luna's mother, Gloria Barrios, a Mexican immigrant who doesn't speak English, journeyed from her home in Chicago to Texas last week, hoping that the air force, which says an investigation is ongoing, might finally be able to give her some answers.
Barrios was accompanied by two people she'd brought along to translate for her. One of them, Ann Wright, a 29-year veteran of the army and reserves who's written on violence against women in the military, told Lydersen in July that the military is failing to adequately investigate the deaths of a number of servicewomen despite having reason to suspect they were raped and murdered. Wright wrote yesterday that "most families of military members who have been killed are at a disadvantage in dealing with the military bureaucracy." In point of fact, air force officials offered Barrios a tour of the base but refused to admit her translators.
Wright describes the scene:
The base Catholic chaplain and the staff Judge Advocate, both colonels, were silent during the exchange. One would have thought that perhaps a chaplain who watched as Mrs. Barrios, a single mother whose only daughter had been killed and whose English was minimal, broke down in tears and sat sobbing on the curb as the public affairs officer described her friends as "outspoken and a threat to the integrity of the meetings" would have been sensitive to a grieving mother's need for a family friend who had translated in all the previous meetings with the Air Force investigators -- but he was silent. Likewise, the senior lawyer on the base, who no doubt had handled many criminal cases, would have recognized that a distraught mother would need someone who could take notes and understand the nuances of the discussion in English during the very stressful discussions with the investigators -- but he was silent. Instead, the colonels bowed to the civilian public affairs officer's advice that "outspoken" women were a threat to the "integrity of the meeting."
In the end, says Wright, "Mrs. Barrios said they were given no new information about the investigation and questioned again why her friends, who over the past seven months have been a part of the briefings from the Air Force, had been kept out of meetings where the Air Force officials knew they were not going to provide any new information."