Army says it was suicide; family of soldier not so sure

Staff Sgt. Amy Tirador
Staff Sgt. Amy Tirador

Staff Sgt. Amy Tirador got what appeared to be a blessing in October 2009 when her husband of three years joined her at Forward Operating Base Caldwell in eastern Iraq.

First Sgt. Mickey Tirador’s assignment at the base meant they could share living quarters and spend the holidays together – an arrangement that most military couples would envy.

But Mickey Tirador’s arrival coincided with a decline in Amy Tirador’s temperament.

She started going to work late and leaving early, falling behind on her job of processing intelligence reports for Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division on its last assignment in Iraq. She seemed “different and defeated,” a major who knew her later told Army investigators.

Amy Tirador, 29, was found dead from a gunshot to the back of her head Nov. 4, 2009, in a small room that housed a power generator at the base. More than a year later, the cause of death – suicide or something else – is still the source of dispute between officials and her family.

The Army initially called the cause of her death “undetermined,” but investigators have since concluded she killed herself, according to a report The News Tribune obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. (Names are redacted in the documents, but ranks remain.)

The physical evidence investigators gathered, such as the fact that her fingerprints covered her handgun, suggested suicide.

Investigators also appeared swayed by comments from Tirador’s friends and coworkers that led them to believe the soldier was struggling in her work and in her marriage. “She was failing slowly,” a chief warrant officer told investigators.

Her family does not accept the Army’s findings.

“My wife is a strong, independent, religious woman,” Mickey Tirador told Army investigators in January. “She would never commit suicide.”

He hired a forensic pathologist to exhume his wife’s body in August. They haven’t released their findings, and they’re awaiting more documents from the Army, said the pathologist, Michael Baden. Mickey Tirador’s attorney did not return a call from a reporter last week.

Colleen Murphy, Amy Tirador’s mother, wants to launch her own review. She doesn’t think the Army went far enough when it produced its report on Amy Tirador’s death in August.

Murphy, 54, of Colonie, N.Y., doesn’t understand why her daughter would take her own life after serving 10 years in the military and finally having an opportunity to live with her husband after years of seeing each other for only a few weeks at a time.

“Amy was a very happy, well-adjusted person there – outgoing,” Murphy said. “Then her husband showed up, and she became very quiet and more withdrawn and less outgoing.

“There’s just so much to it,” she said.

The Army’s Criminal Investigations Division stands ready to move on any information the family produces.

“If someone has credible information, absolutely,” said CID spokesman Christopher Grey. “Our main focus and purpose in life is to get to the truth.”

Amy Tirador joined the Army as a reservist in 1999 and moved to active duty in 2001. She initially trained as a combat medic and was deployed twice, to Turkey in 2003 and to Iraq in 2004.

She trained for a position in human intelligence in 2005 and was stationed at Fort Lewis in 2008. The Tiradors bought a home near the base before they deployed with the 3rd Brigade in August 2009. They were planning to start a family when their tour ended.

Amy Tirador’s colleagues regarded her as a hard worker who usually showed a positive attitude.

“She was excited for the arrival of her husband,” a corporal who worked in Tirador’s office told Army investigators. “Upon his arrival to FOB Caldwell, he would visit her in the office approximately three times a week. She would bring his laundry to the laundry facility for him and bring him a to-go plate after dining. She seemed happy to do so,” the corporal said.

Amy Tirador was “full of joy and happiness all the time and was trying to help other soldiers,” said a specialist who worked for her.

She was doing well at Fort Lewis when she was assigned there in 2008. She had an opportunity to complete special training at a base in Arizona just before leaving for Iraq. That assignment didn’t end as she had hoped, and her failure to finish was the first sign her job in human intelligence would not give her the same satisfaction she took from being a medic.

“You could see the disappointment in her eyes when she came back” from Arizona, a chief warrant officer who knew Amy Tirador at Fort Lewis told Army investigators.

That same warrant officer noticed a deterioration in Amy Tirador’s work about the time her husband arrived. He told investigators that discussions were taking place to move her to a new assignment because Tirador “worked hard but was not making the grade.”

By October – when Mickey Tirador joined her at Caldwell – Tirador “was quick to get frustrated or irritated and began to yell at her subordinates, which was not normal for her,” said a specialist who worked with her.

Comments such as those led Army investigators to believe that Amy Tirador was feeling a high degree of pressure at work and that Mickey Tirador was unresponsive to her struggles.

Investigators also found evidence that Mickey Tirador was adding to her stress. They searched his computer and found that he had spent time on dating Web sites.

Some of his peers told investigators that Mickey Tirador made jokes about his wife putting on weight after they married.

Questions that suggested Mickey Tirador was insensitive to his wife frustrated him when he spoke with investigators two months after her death. He said they were making plans to lose weight together.

“With all these questions, it seems like we had so many flaws in our marriage. That’s not the case,” he told investigators. “My wife and I were very close. I joke around about our weight once in a while, but that never bothered her. She’d joke back about my belly.”

He’s generally avoided talking with the media since his wife’s death, except for a March interview with a television station in her hometown. He told Albany’s “Your News Now” he was staying quiet “because this is exactly how Amy would have wanted it.”

He last saw his wife on the night of Nov. 3, 2009.

Mickey Tirador woke up about 5 a.m. Nov. 4 and didn’t see her. He thought she was at work, so he went to a gym. He ran some errands and went looking for her. A major he met after lunch told him something had happened to his wife.

He ran to the scene. “I looked over and saw a boot in the doorway,” Mickey Tirador told an investigator just after his wife’s death.

People who found Tirador’s body said she was sitting in a room that was just big enough for a generator. They saw a bullet wound behind her right ear, and her gun in her right hand.

Colleen Murphy has heard from soldiers at Caldwell who said the room was occasionally used for romantic rendezvous. She thinks someone killed Amy Tirador there because the generator would muffle the sound of a gunshot.

She’s frustrated that the Army didn’t answer more questions.

“I am going to keep Amy alive as much as I can because she deserves it,” Murphy said. “The military has stripped her of her honor and dignity by saying she killed herself. That’s what I want to give her back.”