Marine Corps Times
September 16, 2002
A Marine is killed by a live round in a blanks-only drill. Now, the family - and the Corps - look for answers.
By David Castellon, Times staff writer
SAN DIEGO - The father of a Marine shot and killed Aug. 28 during a blanks-only exercise at Camp Pendleton, Calif., said he believes a mistake by one or more Marines involved in live-fire training earlier that day led to the tragedy.
Marine officials are investigating how Pfc. Jeremy R. Purcell, 19, was shot during a simulated gun battle at the base’s urban combat training range. But his father said that from what he’s already been told, "Jeremy was killed because somebody screwed up."
Jon Purcell said in a phone interview from his home in Provo, Utah, that Marine officials told him that the Marine who shot his son was part of a Force Reconnaissance platoon that was firing live rounds during training earlier that day.
"Obviously, somebody left a live round in the rifle," and officials in charge of the live-fire training either did not notice the round remaining in the M-4 rifle at the end of the session or simply failed to check the weapon, Purcell said.
"You don’t leave a live-fire range with ammunition. It’s not allowed," said Purcell, a retired Navy Seabee who spent 21 years in the service.
"I can’t think of any other reason for this. I’ve tried."
Base spokesman Capt. Jay Delarosa said that after live-fire training, Marines do a "line out" or a "brass call" in which one or more range officials check whether the Marines have leftover rounds in their magazines or weapons.
"Whether they followed this procedure, that’s up to the investigation to reveal," Delarosa said.
Jeremy Purcell was a military policeman with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. He joined the service last August to learn skills he hoped would lead to a career in civilian law enforcement, his father said.
Jeremy was the sixth of Jon Purcell’s nine children.
"He loved it," Purcell said of his son’s feelings about being a Marine. "I think he felt very strongly that the Marine Corps was going to put him on a track to what he wanted most."
About 7 p.m. Aug. 28, Purcell and about 70 other Marines with MEU Service Support Group 15 and the MEU’s Force Reconnaissance platoon were at Range 131 working on entering and seizing buildings.
A few days before the shooting, Jon Purcell said, his son told him that his unit would be doing urban-warfare training. "His platoon was defending the building, and Force Recon were the aggressors, and they were supposed to aggress his position."
It was during that exercise that one of the opposing Marines fired the round that hit Purcell in the chest. He was wearing a flak vest, but Delarosa didn’t know whether it was one of the new Interceptor vests, which feature pouches for plates meant to stop small-caliber rounds from penetrating.
"It went straight through the vest," Delarosa said.
Purcell was flown by helicopter to the base hospital, where doctors pronounced him dead on arrival.
Officials have not released the name of the Marine who fired the fatal round nor would they discuss whether more than one live round was fired. They have not said whether they suspect foul play.
Blank firing adapters used
All the Marines in the exercise were using blank firing adapters - metal devices screwed into the barrels of their rifles when firing blank rounds, Delarosa said, but he wasn’t sure why the adapter didn’t stop the bullet in the barrel.
Delarosa didn’t know whether the Marine who fired the round that killed Purcell was injured or whether his rifle was damaged. But weapons experts say that if the shooter did have a blank firing adapter attached to his rifle, it would be surprising he wasn’t injured in the incident himself.
One weapons expert, who has seen the effects of live rounds accidentally fired through blank firing adapters three times, described the effect on the weapon as "catastrophic." In the three incidents he witnessed, a Marine firing an M-60 machine gun was killed and two Marines firing M-16 rifles required significant reconstructive surgery.
In the case of the M-16s, the rifles disintegrated in a powerful flash, blowing apart at the barrel and further back, where the upper and lower receivers connect.
"There’s going to be shrapnel," the expert said. "Ninety percent of the time, it’s going to blow into a shooter’s face."
Another weapons expert said that, regardless of whether the weapon is damaged, a live round fired through a blank firing adapter will fly erratically. The expert said he witnessed an incident in which a live round was fired from an M-60 machine gun with a blank firing adapter. The adapter flew off the end of the weapon, and the round traveled wildly and missed the intended target.
In at least one shooting incident, the weapon continued to function after the first round was fired and knocked the firing adapter out of the weapon’s barrel. According to Naval Safety Center officials, a Marine was shot twice during a nighttime urban-combat exercise at Camp Pendleton in April 2000. During that exercise - also planned as a blanks-only session - a Marine accidentally loaded a belt of live rounds into his M240G machine gun. Upon firing the weapon, the Marine’s first shot blew the blank firing adapter from the weapon, and subsequent rounds struck another Marine in the shoulder and leg.
Range 131 silenced
Training at Range 131 has been suspended indefinitely during the investigation, after which officials will determine whether safety changes are needed to prevent future accidents, Delarosa said.
"I’m sure the Marine Corps is conducting a thorough investigation," the elder Purcell said. "If - and this is a big if - if this was something that was a complete accident, that this was a freak thing, then I don’t think that the other Marine that was involved with this should be crucified over this."
On the other hand, Purcell said, if someone "did something he knew was a violation of regulations, whatever [rank] he was, then he needs to answer for it. And if there were others above him that didn’t take care of their responsibilities … they need to answer for this."
While the Purcell family waits for more concrete answers, they have tried to bring some sense of normalcy back to their lives. The weekend after the shooting, the family attempted to celebrate the 18th birthday of one of Jon Purcell’s other sons, as well as the birthday of a grandson.
"Jeremy’s passing kind of didn’t lend well to a celebration," Jon Purcell said. Jeremy’s 18-year-old brother didn’t get any birthday cake because he went to California to escort Jeremy’s body home.
A funeral for Jeremy Purcell was set for Sept. 6 in Sandy, Utah. More than 400 Marines and sailors met the day before at the Marine Memorial Chapel at Camp Pendleton for a service for Jeremy.
As a former Marine machinegunner I can testify as to the failure of leadership in not checking the weapons for live rds. I also fault the grunt who had the live rd in his rifle, he absolutely should've known better. I also fault his squad leader, plt. sgt. & plt. Lt. Where the hell were they in ensuring safety procedures being followed?
Someone will most likely get court martialed over this & several should lose at least one stripe/bar.
....not to cause a flaming.....
But I wouldn't be surprised if this was swept undre the rug....
I don't think the father will let the death of his son get swept anywhere. You NEVER EVER leave the range without clearing and checking your weapon.
This is inexcusable and I agree with Bob, the soldier's entire chain of command that was present should be fried and those that weren't present should get repremanded for failure to train their Marines better.
A Marine is NEVER a soldier & vice versa. Please don't generalize we Marines that way. Thank you.
The shakedown after a live fire training session is why.
I lost a good buddy thanks to ignorance such as this at Pendleton in 87'.
Consider the number of rounds expended,and number of training exercises without such an incident and this is just an anomoly.
It sucks that being an anomoly is no comfort to the family and the Corp's that has suffered a loss...someone slipped,and someone will pay dearly for it.
Let us all be thankfull good men go and die so that we all can sleep at night,Fat,dumb,and happy.
Marines are not "Soldiers".
There is a marked difference,and referring to a Marine as a "Soldier" is an insult to a Marine.
It ain't about who is better,it's about respect.
The Kid earned the title or he wouldn't have been there.God Bless him for his sacrifice.
The question isn't how this man could have had a live round! The main question in my mind is why didn't the rifle blow up? If you shot a live round in an M-16 that has a blank firing adapter on the muzzle, then you will at the least bulge the barrel. More likly you will blow the bolt back into your face. There is very little liklyhood that this was a "accident" in my mind. When I was in the service, I saw a rifle fired with a blank firing adapter on, cause the barrel to bulge, and the upper reciever to crack. I worked in the Small Arms maint. shop and was the person to work on the rifle when it was brought into the shop.
Slip of the tongue, no offense meant. While I was in the service, I trained with Jarheads on a few occasions and found most all of them to be professional and fit...and good god can they hold their liquor! I've also met some that should have had the title "Marine" stripped, but there's a few rotten apples in every basket no matter how well polished.
Sorry Guys, I feel really bad about saying this but Range rules in the Military are very strict and very very much adhered to. This story really saddens me for it can be only one of two root causes. Serious NEGLECT or Somone really didn't like the kid.........................Investigation is more than warranted. As for swept under the rug, don't see it. If neglect, little will be said but the responsible party might as well look for another career and malice once again little will be said but career ruined and a trip to Lev minimum. My day could have got you a one way to the front for either.