The widow of a Fort Hood soldier has accused officials of a “cover-up” after she encountered a mysterious man covered in blood wandering through the woods, hours before her husband’s body was found nearby.
Twenty-eight people stationed at the military base in Texas have died this year, prompting an investigation by Congress into a string of sexual assaults, suspicious disappearances, and deaths at Fort Hood.
In an exclusive interview with The Sun, Tannie Schuette said she knew something wasn’t right when a phone call from her husband – who had ducked out to grab something for a family dinner – ended abruptly.
SSG Devin Schuette, 35, was always available to speak and had never acted like that previously, according to Tannie.
It was New Year’s Day, 2016.
Tragically, it was the last time she ever heard from him, and the beginning of the family’s enduring battle for answers that are yet to come.
Devin was found dead inside a car near the recreation area at Fort Hood on January 3, two days after he vanished. There was a hose leading from the exhaust pipe into his vehicle.
His death was later ruled a suicide by the US Army, but Tannie doesn’t buy it.
“His final cause of death was asphyxiation,” she told The Sun, citing the investigation report she says she has viewed.
“The reason I think this is a cover-up – not just with my husband but several other soldiers, and maybe other civilians – is my husband was stabbed nine times (and) had defense wounds … my husband supposedly stabbed himself before taking his own life.”
Devin, originally of Clovis, New Mexico, was serving as an Intelligence Analyst with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood at the time of his death.
He is one of more than 20 soldiers at the base who have tragically died in recent years. The outpost has been plagued with scandal following several murders, suicides, and claims of systemic bullying and sexual harassment from within the military.
A series of disturbing twists and turns, including an encounter with a strange man who “had blood all over his face” and a bungled internal investigation, has fueled Tannie’s suspicions of foul play.
“There’s a cover-up at the highest levels,” she said.
Tannie said she went to meet a reporter at the Fort Hood Recreation area to “do a missing person story” during the search, one day after Devin had disappeared. The operation was being concentrated in the area because Devin’s cellphone had last pinged there.
Tannie was with her mother and sister when they made an unexpected discovery in the dark of the night.
“We picked one grid and as we were driving out we parked down a dirt road,” she said.
“It was pitch black and freezing cold but nothing was going to stop me from looking.
“So we get out and we see a flashlight in the distance, and my mom and sister were like: ‘somebody is out there, maybe it’s a search party’.”
Tannie was being interviewed by the reporter when her mother and sister approached the man, aged in his fifties, and asked what he was doing there, she said.
“He was very intoxicated and said: ‘I’m out here looking for my friend and his truck’,” Tannie continued.
“So they’re talking to him and come rushing back to car … my mum is like: ‘Call 911 [as] he had blood all over his face’ and my sister was confirming everything my mom was saying.
“I said: ‘does it look like he’s hurt?’ and she said: ‘no, it’s [the blood] in an upward pattern on his face… it’s not his’.”
According to Tannie, she immediately called 911. She said a warden soon showed up and set out to locate the unidentified man.
Upon returning to the group, the warden told them he had located the man, who informed him he was a cattle rancher looking for cows and had been injured by a tree branch, Tannie said.
“They didn’t take him down the station, they didn’t even get a name, or take a blood sample.”
To this day, Tannie and her family do not know who the man was.
Devin’s body was discovered in his vehicle about five miles away at the Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area the following day.
“The lieutenant made it there before me,” Tannie said.
“I got a gun pulled on me by one of the officers [when she tried to approach the area].
“They detained my mom’s cell phone and made her delete any and all photos from that night.”
The Army Criminal Investigation Command later determined that Devin’s death was not suspicious.
“The whole investigation and the way they conducted themselves was a sh** show,” she added.
Tannie said she wants an independent investigation into her husband’s death – but she won’t hold her breath.
The US Army’s Ford Hood office did not respond to questions from The Sun.
Tannie said it was also difficult to reconcile some of the procedures in the military because if a piece of equipment goes missing “no one is allowed to leave until it’s found” but if a person disappears “everyone goes home and you can’t even report it until after 24 hours”.
She wants an overhaul of the system to protect other soldiers who might go missing in the future and their families.
“I’ve gotten to a point where it’s too much but someone has to put their neck out there for the safety of everybody else,” Tannie said.
The base came to the nation’s attention earlier this year after Specialist Vanessa Guillen disappeared from her post on April 22.
Officials said Specialist Aaron Robinson, 20, killed and dismembered her before killing himself as police closed in.
Guillen’s remains were found in July near the Leon River in Bell County, roughly 20 miles east of Fort Hood.
Congressional leaders confirmed in September that they’re investigating the deaths of soldiers at the base and the leadership’s response.
Representatives Stephen Lynch, D-Massachusetts, and Jackie Speier, D-California, chairs of the Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Subcommittee on National Security and Committee on Armed Services’ Subcommittee on Military Personnel, sent a letter to Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy demanding documents and information on the deaths.
The list includes Specialist Vanessa Guillen, who federal officials say was bludgeoned to death in April by a fellow soldier, and Private Gregory Morales, went missing in August 2019. His remains were found in June while searching for Guillen.
According to the letter, during an August visit to Texas, McCarthy stated that Fort Hood had the “highest, the most cases for sexual assault and harassment and murders for our entire formation of the US army”.
The letter also made reference to Private Mejhor Morta, who was found drowned in a lake, and Sergeant Elder Fernandes, who was found hanging in a tree. Both of their deaths remain under investigation.
Additionally, the letter referenced ongoing investigations into the homicides of Private Brandon Scott Rosecrans, Specialist Freddy Delacruz Jr and Specialist Shelby Tyler Jones.
The representatives outlined an investigation to be led by the subcommittees to determine if recent deaths “may be symptomatic of underlying leadership, discipline, and morale deficiencies throughout the chain-of-command.”
Between 2014 and 2019, there was an average of 129 felonies committed annually at Fort Hood, according to Army data referenced in the letter.
Some of the felonies included homicide, sexual assault, kidnapping, robbery, and aggravated assault.
The twenty-eighth death at Fort Hood this year occurred last month when Pvt Carlton L Chee, 25, a member of the Navajo Nation, collapsed following a training exercise.
Fort Hood is a sprawling base of nearly 215,000 acres, or 340sq miles, founded in 1942 in mid-Texas, between Austin and Dallas.
It is also one of a number of military bases named for leaders or generals of the Confederacy, which fought and lost the civil war between 1861 and 1865 in an attempt to maintain slavery.
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