Mother of Sgt. Kirkland speaks out: 'The Army killed my son'

Kirkland one of many veterans who have committed suicide

April 19, 2011

On March 19, 2010, Army Infantry Specialist and Iraq war veteran Derrick Kirkland took his own life.

He was on his second tour in Iraq when a fellow soldier found him with a shotgun in his mouth, about to pull the trigger. He was sent home to be treated for PTSD, attempted suicide a second time during his flight layover in Germany, then a third time once he arrived at his unit in Ft. Lewis, Wash. After his third attempt, he was rated a “low” risk for suicide by Army psychologists and was discharged to a barracks room by himself, where he succeeded in his fourth attempt.

Immediately afterward, March Forward! members in Kirkland’s unit wrote and distributed this statement, and have been publicizing the case ever since to expose the Army’s criminal negligence. Word of March Forward!’s work reached Kirkland’s mother, Mary Corkhill, who contacted us.

She gave the following interview. Click here to sign the petition demanding justice for Kirkland and his family.

March Forward!: Can you start by telling us a little about yourself and your background?

Mary Corkhill: Yes, I was born and raised here in Indianapolis, Ind. Very good children. I just always loved being a wife and mother, raising my kids. Teaching them to love God, love your country, and love your fellow person. Basically all four of [my children] have walked that road also.

MF!: What led Derrick to join the Army?

Mary: He couldn’t make enough money. He ended up working [at] Steak and Shake, working as a line cook there and at IHOP. He had a baby on the way, you know, trying to make a better life for his wife and child.

MF!: After his first deployment to Iraq, did you notice a change in him?

Mary: Yes, unfortunately for all of our service members you see too much over there and [are] asked to do things that you would normally not do. Everybody knew Derrick as a little jokester. He always tried to make people laugh. Yes, you could tell that thoughts were heavy on his mind. He wasn’t as happy after his first tour. He actually had pictures on his computer and explained to his own mother how when you kill somebody over there you have to lay their body down, take everything out of their pockets, document everything. He took a picture and showed me.

MF!: Is there any particular event that he shared with you that affected him?

Mary: He told me one instance where he was ordered to stand on an Iraqi's chest [who had been shot] so the guy would bleed out faster. I think that in particular really haunted Derrick.

MF!: How did he feel about getting orders to deploy for a second time after he had been through all of this?

Mary: He tried to play it off like it didn’t bother him. Me and him when he was home on leave after his first deployment before his second, me and him had gone to Ft. Campbell, Ky., to visit his younger brother, and we spoke about stuff like that. Basically it was for the money, to stay in the Army for the money and the benefits.  He felt there were no other options; he had a child to raise.

MF!: After hearing his stories and how he changed from the first time, how did you feel about him having to go again?

Mary: I was very upset. My way of thinking is you don’t put somebody over there to fight a war. Bring him home for one year with their wife and child and expect to live a normal life, then they have to leave that and go back. Knowing what they’re going back into. To me I think there should be a law passed [that there be] at least a two- or three-year lapse in between deployments.

MF!: How did you hear about him being sent home for being a suicide risk?

Mary: Derrick called me. He called me when he was in Germany and told me when. We were also using Facebook and Myspace. I didn’t find out until he was back to Ft. Lewis that he was sent back for trying to kill himself over there by putting a shotgun in his mouth. He just kept telling me, “ Mom, I can’t handle it, the stress is getting to me.”

MF!: So while he was still there he was communicating with you and what was he telling you before he got sent to Germany?

Mary: Yes, yes. We were on Facebook. One of the last things he wrote on his Facebook before he died was, “I am not getting enough sleep, I am not able to sleep. I need to ask the nurse to up my sleep meds.” So they were aware he was not sleeping. He weighed 110 pounds and was not eating.

MF!: Explain what happened next when he was sent home after being a suicide risk.

Mary: I was happy. I thought they would bring him back and help him. I thought that Derrick would finally get help. I had no idea that they were going to keep him in the hospital for only one day. Then they would put him by himself and not help him in any way. I just feel that the Army has massively failed him. All of the warning signs—I mean, how many people try to kill themselves three times in a month’s time before they actually do it? I mean, the second attempt should have been a big red flag, NO! NO! You know? Automatic 30-day in hospital, 24/ 7 care. I am very angry at the Army and I feel they killed my son. Those are my thoughts, the Army killed my son.

MF!: Looking at the report from investigation of the scene, the investigators noted he left all around him the evidence that he was seeking help for suicide and PTSD but wasn’t receiving it. Why do you feel he left this stuff out?

Mary: Because he wanted people to know the truth!

MF!: In addition to the medical documents regarding his mental health treatment, he left letters to all of you. What was the nature of those?

Mary: That’s one of the things the Army will not send me. The various letters addressed to other people, I’m sure that at least one member of his family, he has two brothers and a sister, me or his father, I am sure there is one of us he wrote a letter to, but we have received nothing.

MF!: They won’t even give you the letters he wrote to his family?

Mary: No, no. They wouldn’t release the letters because they had to “verify his hand writing” to make sure it was his.

MF!: We know that he attempted suicide three times. Based on this do you feel this could have been prevented and how do you think it could be prevented?

Mary: Yes it could have been prevented. They never should have left Derrick alone. From what I am gathering from the paperwork they sent, they did good getting him from Iraq to Germany and they started losing him in Germany. They should have had someone assigned to him just for that reason. One thing I have learned because Derrick’s father was in the Army, now they call them “battle buddies;” he should have been assigned a battle buddy—he was in a battle with himself.

MF!: If you could, and I think they will be hearing you, what would you say to the officers in charge of Derrick and the officers in charge of the mental health care at Ft. Lewis?

Mary: My message if I could give it to their faces? You have to look at yourself in the mirror every day, every time you do look in these mother's eyes; I just want you to know you failed. You’re guilty of killing my son. You failed.

MF!: The Army has done their investigation, they feel everything is done and settled. Do you think justice has been served, do you think there is more to be done?

Mary: Justice isn’t even close. According to them they did their job, but as far as justice ... What’s the justice? They didn’t even get my son's death date right. He died March 19 and they buried him under March 20. There is no justice. … Yet.

Sign the petition demanding justice for Kirkland and his family by clicking here.
Please circulate widely to help build the campaign for Kirkland, and the countless others who have succumb or are struggling with PTSD and the U.S. military's criminal response.

Click here to read the statement circulated by March Forward! members in 4-9 Infantry in their barracks after his death.


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