02/20/11 — Officials investigating SJAFB airman shooting

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Officials investigating SJAFB airman shooting

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on February 20, 2011 1:50 AM

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Air Force officials prepare to enter the scene where a Seymour Johnson Air Force Base airman was involved in a shooting incident Friday.

A 4th Fighter Wing airman is fighting for his life at Pitt Memorial Hospital after a shooting at his home late Friday afternoon.

Cody Hendrickson, a 23-year-old member of the wing's Component Maintenance Squadron, is currently in critical condition, a hospital spokesman said Saturday just before press time, after what a source familiar with the crime scene characterized as a "suicide attempt" with a high-powered rifle.

The incident, which occurred at the airman's apartment off Sandhill Drive, marks the fifth tragedy to hit Seymour Johnson Air Force Base since early October.

And like three of the four that preceded it, this latest tragedy was allegedly self-inflicted -- Senior Airman Ross Merrit Horton was found dead in his Wayne County home Oct. 4, Tech. Sgt. Robert Steven Newlon Jr. died Oct. 10 at his Pikeville residence and Tech Sgt. Joshua Grotke's body was discovered Nov. 29.

Air Force officials say all the incidents remain under investigation. No official acknowledgement of the cause of death in any of the cases has been issued.

The other death occurred at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, just a few weeks ago and is still under investigation -- Air Force officials would only say Tech. Sgt. Les Williams was involved in a "shooting incident" that was not combat-related.

No additional details on Hendrickson have been released by base officials.

Since the first two suicides, 4th Commander Col. Patrick Doherty has said he and his leadership team are taking a pro-active approach to prevent further tragedies -- that suicide prevention is his top priority for 2011.

The colonel stood the wing down Oct. 12 and has since created a task force meant to help at-risk airmen confront their problems.

"The big communication is, 'Listen, we love you. We care about you. You're special. You have a special purpose in life. So what can we do to assist?'" Doherty said Saturday evening. "We'll continue to do that. We are putting 110 percent of our focus and effort on our airmen and our families. Since these tragedies started up in October, we have totally organized a new task force to address some of the challenges that the ops tempo brings and talk about the mental and spiritual health of our Air Force members and families.

"So we are doing everything we possibly can to enable and influence positive life decisions for our airmen and dependents. It's at the forefront of our thoughts every single day."

Some Seymour Johnson airmen have said that increased deployment cycles and pressures from other demands such as readiness exercises and inspections have taken their toll on Air Force personnel and their families.

Doherty, though, dismissed the notion that the stresses of Air Force life are leading airmen to take their own lives.

"I always have freely admitted we have an ops tempo just like the entire Air Force has an ops temp right now. We are fighting two wars and have been for a long duration. There's no doubt about that," he said. "But these folks haven't been here at Seymour Johnson for those 20 years. For instance, this young kid who's fighting for his life right now, he was newly arrived. He got here in November."