Bragg families want answers in infant deaths

By Mike Hixenbaugh
The Fayetteville Observer

Jay’Vair Pollard was a little more than 2 months old when he quit breathing April 15, 2009. The baby died that morning while sleeping in his mother’s arms at their home on Fort Bragg.

The boy’s grandmother, Lori Gray, said she had never cried so hard in her life.

That was until three months later, when another of her grandchildren, 7-month-old Ka’Mya Frey, died while taking a nap in the same home on the military post. The infant was standing in her crib and smiling just hours before her mother, Bianca Outlaw, found the baby cold and lifeless lying face-up on the mattress.

“That was it for me,” Gray said Wednesday. “I fell completely apart after that. I’ve never lost a child, but losing a grandchild is just as bad I think, and now I’ve lost two.”

Jay’Vair and Ka’Mya are among 10 infants who have died suddenly and without warning inside military housing units on Fort Bragg since January 2007.

On Tuesday, military officials announced that all 10 deaths are being reviewed to determine if they might be connected. So far, though, officials said the investigation has turned up no common thread – other than location – linking the cases in any way.

Outlaw said she finds that hard to believe. She choked back tears Wednesday as she described over the phone the shock of finding her daughter dead.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Outlaw said. “I was frantic. That’s something I’m always going to live with for the rest of my life.”

The baby died during an extended visit with Melissa Pollard, Gray’s daughter, and her soldier husband in the Ardennes neighborhood on post, Outlaw said. Cody Frey, Ka’Mya’s father and Outlaw’s fiancee, is Melissa Pollard’s brother.

It was only months after the Pollards’ son, Jay’Vair, died suddenly, but Outlaw never thought her child might be at risk. The baby never even had a cold before visiting Fort Bragg, Outlaw said.

The Pollards only found out several weeks later, after speaking with neighbors, that a third baby whose family had been living in the same housing unit died unexpectedly two years earlier while at an off-post baby-sitting service.

“When we learned that, that’s when we knew there had to be something going on in that house,” Outlaw said. “My daughter was healthy before we went up there. It can’t just be a coincidence.”

Jamie Hernan, the lawyer representing Outlaw, Frey and the Pollards, has been pressing Fort Bragg officials and Picerne Military Housing representatives to release the results of environmental tests conducted at the house, but they have refused, he said.

Chris Grey, a spokesman with the Army Criminal Investigative Command, said test results from the homes would be made public when the military investigation is complete.

“If everything is fine – if all the tests have come back negative – why not lay everything out on the table and say, ‘This is what we’re working with. Here are the test results,’ ” Hernan said. “My clients just want answers.”

Hernan said other families have started reaching out to him, asking for help and demanding answers.

Among them was Spc. Nathanael Duke and his wife, Krystyna, who lost their 6-week-old son, Gabriel, in March. They say investigators removed chunks of drywall and carpeting and sent them to a lab before returning weeks later and telling them to move out immediately.

“They said we had Chinese drywall,” Krystyna said, referring to the imported building material known to emit high levels of sulfur gases. The Dukes are certain that’s what killed their baby.

But John Shay, a program manager with Picerne Military Housing, said subsequent environmental and hazardous material tests at the home were negative.

Shay said the air, building materials and other items have been tested at all the units where infants have died. Toxic black mold and contaminated drywall from China have been ruled out in each case, he said.

About 18,000 people live in roughly 6,200 houses on Fort Bragg.

Since Picerne took over Fort Bragg’s housing seven years ago, the private firm has torn down and rebuilt or renovated thousands of homes. Three of the houses where infants died were new, three had been renovated and three had undergone minor renovations, Shay said.

Paris Mayo is scared contractors took shortcuts or made mistakes on the housing. Mayo’s 3-month-old daughter, Kiely, died unexpectedly in September 2008 while living in the Casablanca neighborhood on post.

Mayo and her husband moved away for a while but have since returned to the community, not aware that other babies had died in base housing. Now they fear their newborn son might be at risk.

“I want to make sure I keep him safe,” Mayo said of the 5-week-old child. “I’m like everyone else. I want answers.”

Gray, Jay’Vair and Ka’Mya’s grandmother, said she prays nobody else has to experience what her children have suffered through.

“We want answers,” Gray said. “We want to know what happened. If someone is responsible, they need to stand up and say, ‘Hey, we made a mistake. We’re sorry.’ ”

Staff writer Mike Hixenbaugh can be reached at hixenbaughm@fayobserver.com or (910) 486-3511.
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