The night before Riley Schultz, a 19-year old Marine from Longmont, Colorado, was found shot at his post at Camp Pendleton in San Diego, he paid his credit card bill. The week before, he booked a plane ticket home in mid-April so he could visit his family before he was set to be deployed to South Africa.
So when his family found out the Marine Corps determined his death was a suicide, they were dumbfounded.
"There's no way he committed suicide," said Schultz's aunt, Danielle Spielman. "He had just told me that he was going to give me his motorcycle helmet when he came home so I could look out for it for him while he was deployed. He loved the Marines, and the fact they ruled his death as a suicide when he showed no signs of distress makes me sick to my stomach."
The situation was even more exasperating because just three days earlier, the Corps had called Schultz's mom, Misty Schultz-McCoy, and told her their investigation found that his death was not a suicide, meaning he would receive full military honors, including a memorial service at Camp Pendleton.
The secretary of the Navy even sent the family a certificate for a gold star saying, "In grateful memory of Lance Corporal Riley Alexander Schultz who died while in the service of our country as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps."
Nevertheless, on Wednesday, 12 days after his death, the Marine Corps switched its position, releasing a statement saying, "The lead medical examiner investigating the March 15 death of Lance Cpl. Riley Schultz, a Marine with 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, has determined the cause of death as suicide."
Not only was the family heartbroken, but Schultz's death being classified a suicide means he will not receive an official memorial at Camp Pendleton and his family will not receive any military benefits.
Despite numerous requests by the family and the Times-Call for a detailed report of the investigation, the Marine Corps declined to release one.
All Capt. Paul Gainey, the spokesmen for the 1st Marine Division, said he could release was that, "early on March 15, while conducting a field exercise in preparation for a deployment, Lance Cpl. Schultz was standing fire watch over his platoon's vehicles and equipment. The shift was set to last from 3:50 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. When a fellow Marine arrived to relieve him, Lance Cpl. Schultz was found with a gunshot wound to the head."
It does not mention anything about where the gunshot wound was located, what kind of gun was used, an approximate time of death, whether it could have been an accident, if there were any witnesses, or if Schultz had reached out for psychological help at any point during his military career.
Despite the lingering questions, the Schultz family is not overly concerned with the military's official stance on Riley Schultz's death. Their only concern for now is making sure he is remembered as the happy, selfless and driven young man they say anyone who came in contact with him would describe him as.
"This has been a nightmare," Schultz-McCoy said. "How does this happen? I don't even know what to do. Why would they do this to a family? I just don't want him to be remembered for this disaster. Riley deserves all the honor and respect given to any other Marine no matter what happened to cause his death. ... The Marines have failed him miserably, but our family isn't going to."
Schultz's body was finally returned to his family on Thursday. His family ensured that the Federal Protection Agency provided him with a Dignified Honors Motorcade from Denver International Airport all the way to Immanuel Lutheran Church in Loveland, where he was confirmed as a 13-year-old, before concluding at Kibbey-Fishburn Funeral Home in Loveland.
While the Marines will no longer stand guard over his casket during his April 6 funeral, during the procession, fire trucks and police cars lined the bridges and three veterans groups joined the procession.
When he is finally laid to rest, he will be buried next to his father, David Schultz, who died in a car accident when Riley was just 3 years old. By all accounts, the two were inseparable during their time together. Riley Schultz even said his dad was his inspiration for joining the Marines and had a pair of angel wings tattooed on his arm around his dad's favorite Psalm, "O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me."
In honor of Schultz's memory, his family has begun a scholarship fund. Those interested in donating can do so at bit.ly/2JN0mu3.
This article was written by John Spina from Daily Times-Call, Longmont, Colo. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.