Pvt. Dakota Stump was last seen alive driving on Fort Hood on Oct 10. Three weeks later, his body was discovered near his destroyed car on the Texas post, even though investigators told his mother that his phone was pinging off cell towers in Indiana.
Patrice Wise, the 19-year-old infantryman's mother, along with her friends and family had been scouring their home state looking for her son, whom the Army was convinced had run away, she told Army Times in a Monday phone interview.
It turned out Stump never left Fort Hood, where he was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division, and was probably driving back to work after a daylong break from a 30-day stint in the field, his mother said.
"The [Criminal Investigation Command] said that it looked like a very, very bad accident, and it looked like he was going back to his motor pool and he went left instead of right," said Wise, who was told her son must have been speeding at the time.
That story contradicts initial theories, including one from Stump's brother Dustin, that his disappearance might have had something to do with his drinking and frustration with his experience in the Army, as told to a local news station.
"We didn’t think Dakota would ever go AWOL or commit suicide or just take off, because he was just going to work," his mother said. "He was very excited about the Army. A lot of people reached out to me and he told us when he was home in September that he was pretty excited about getting into Ranger school."
Investigators told Wise that his cellphone had pinged towers back in Indiana during the five days before the battery died.
"And the whole time he was laying in the woods, and nobody would go look," she said. "He knew going into this that he could be giving his life for all of us, and they couldn’t even go look for him. We were told that we were taking time away from their training."
The unit housed on that part of the post, near Building 43028, was out of state on a training mission, she said officials told her, and so the soldiers were not able to search the area.
"And then they called me Friday to try to basically bullshit their way out of that wrong ping," she said. "They said they get wrong pings sometimes, and the lead investigator explained that his wife could be calling from Virginia but it would show up as in Connecticut."
The investigator told Wise that Stump's car had rolled multiple times, and he had been ejected, but the crash scene wasn't visible from the road.
Fort Hood officials declined to comment on the investigation.
"Our thoughts and condolences go to Pvt. Stump's family during this trying time," spokesman Tyler Broadway told Army Times. "Unfortunately, we are unable to offer a comment on issues pertaining to an ongoing investigation."
Wise and her family are meeting with a casualty assistance officer Monday to discuss the next steps.
Stump's body was autopsied Friday by an official from the Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, according to CID spokesman Chris Grey.
"I’m just trying to bring my child home," she said. "I can’t even make his arrangements until I know when he’s going to come home so we’re just sitting here waiting on the Army to do something."
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.