Former Soldier Is Charged With Killing Pregnant Army Private 2 Decades Ago
Several months into her U.S. Army service in Germany, Private Amanda Gonzales called her mother back home in Texas and told her that she was pregnant. She was only 19 and on her first assignment in the Army. She was excited and planned to name the child Alicia Marie, her mother, Gloria Bates, recalled.
Ms. Bates booked Private Gonzales a ticket home that Christmas. She never made it.
When she did not show up for work as a cook at Fliegerhorst Kaserne, then an Army base in Hanau, Germany, on Monday, Nov. 5, 2001, soldiers broke down the door to her third-floor barracks room, her mother said. Private Gonzales was found dead. Her death was ruled a homicide by asphyxiation.
For two decades, no one was charged. Frustrated, Ms. Bates said she fought to keep the investigation alive, writing letters to members of Congress and to television shows like “Dr. Phil” and “America’s Most Wanted.” On the 10th anniversary of Private Gonzales’s death, Army investigators offered a $125,000 reward for information. But the case still went cold.
Then, on Thursday, 21 years after the killing, Ms. Bates said that the F.B.I. called her to say that the authorities had finally made an arrest. According to the Justice Department, Shannon L. Wilkerson, 42, was arrested in Florida and charged with one count of first-degree murder in the death of Private Gonzales, who was four months pregnant. Mr. Wilkerson faces up to life in prison, if convicted.
He had been serving in the military when Private Gonzales was killed and was later discharged from the Army, the Justice Department said.
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Mr. Wilkerson has pleaded not guilty, according to court records. The two federal public defenders representing him did not immediately respond to emails on Friday. Court documents filed in the case did not explain the relationship between Mr. Wilkerson and Private Gonzales, how investigators had connected him to the killing or any possible motive.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office for the Northern District of Florida said the office did not have further details to share.
Ms. Bates said that investigators told her that they had been examining DNA evidence in the case, although she did not know if DNA had linked Mr. Wilkerson to the crime.
Ms. Bates, who is 60 and lives in Wylie, Texas, said she planned to attend Mr. Wilkerson’s detention hearing in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, in Pensacola, in March. He was charged under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, which allows the federal government to try former soldiers in civilian courts for crimes that happen overseas.
“I am feeling like I bought a roller coaster ticket and the roller coaster just showed up,” Ms. Bates said in an interview on Friday. “It’s an emotional ride of opening wounds but knowing the truth of what really happened.”
Ms. Bates said that her daughter, who grew up in Madisonville, Texas, had been a straight-A student in high school and had wanted to become a physical therapist for children. Private Gonzales also wanted to travel, so when she got the opportunity to join the Army in 2000 and serve in Europe, she said, “I’ll take it,” Ms. Bates recalled.
During her free time, Private Gonzales visited castles in Germany and drove to Paris with a friend, Ms. Bates said. She also told her cousins that she had been bullied by women on the base who wanted to fight her, Ms. Bates said. She said her daughter stood up for herself and others.
“They called her ‘firecracker’ because she was always ready to blow,” Ms. Bates said. “She was independent. She took care of herself, so I know she put up a good fight.”
Susan C. Beachy contributed research.
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