05/18/04 — Suicide suspected in death of airman

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Suicide suspected in death of airman

By Wire
Published in News on May 18, 2004 2:02 PM

COLUMBIA, Tenn. (AP) -- An airman from Tennessee and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina who died of non-hostile injuries in Iraq is believed to have committed suicide, the Defense Department said.

Senior Airman Pedro I. Espaillat Jr., 20, of Columbia, died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound Saturday in Kirkuk, Iraq, Air Force spokeswoman Jennifer Stephens said. The official cause of death is awaiting an autopsy report.

Espaillat was assigned to the 4th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Seymour Johnson in Goldsboro, N.C., Air Force officials said. He worked as an airplane mechanic.

He died about a month before he was scheduled to return to the United States, said his father, Pedro Espaillat Sr.

The father said he tried to persuade his oldest son to go first to college to study engineering, then make the military a career.

But Espaillat, a 2001 honors graduate at Spring Hill High School, chose to enlist. He did so one week before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"After he was in boot camp, I couldn't pull him out. He wanted to be an engineer since he was little. Now he never will," said the father.

Espaillat came to Tennessee in 1993 with his mother and two brothers from the Dominican Republic. His father, an assembly worker at Saturn Corp., had arrived about three years earlier.

The son excelled in school, graduating 38th in a class of 228 at Spring Hill High.

Velma Oden, secretary for the guidance counselors at the school, remembered when the recruiting officer visited him at Spring Hill High.

"It was like going into the military was something he really wanted to do, one of his goals," she said.