TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. (KGTV) - The family of a Navy corpsman who died on a Southern California military base is alleging a possible coverup by members of the military following this week’s announcement from the Marines that a servicemember has been charged in connection with the death investigation.
ABC10 News investigative reporter Jennifer Kastner first broke the story in 2019 after learning that the sudden death of 30-year-old HM3 Michael Vincent De Leon was being investigated as a homicide, not a suicide, like the family said they were led to believe. The Navy corpsman, or medic, died last summer on the Twentynine Palms military base, located a few hours northeast of San Diego.
On Thursday, ABC10 News spoke to parents Jose and Sandra De Leon. They were overcome with emotion after learning about the new charges. “The good news in all of this is that the long wait has not been in vain," said Jose. Sandra added, “Sometimes I just listen to [my son's] recordings just to hear his voice."
On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Marines sent ABC10 News the following statement:
“As you might know, this incident is still under investigation. I can confirm, however, that charges have been preferred against one of the individuals for dereliction of duty resulting in death and dereliction of duty. A hearing is not scheduled at this time. The other individuals are being investigated. I will keep you updated once we receive more information.”
De Leon’s parents first contacted ABC10 News for help last year after claiming that the military stonewalled them from getting answers about their son's death. They said that Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) would only tell them that there was a shooting on base at a housing unit with other corpsmen present and a firearm was produced.
ABC10 News then learned from a source with close military ties that NCIS confirmed the death was being investigated as a homicide, not a suicide.
“The phone call from that residence using my son’s phone was that it was a suicide,” Jose said on Thursday. He added that prosecutors told him the servicemember charged is a Navy corpsman who was at a house party on base with his son and other corpsmen. He said prosecutors also told him that some of those corpsmen are likely facing upcoming charges.
He added Thursday, “We know that the firearm was dry fired at Michael. The firearm was put away and it came out again and according to some statements they were horsing around and the firearm came out again and that's when Michael was killed.”
“These men need to be held accountable for what they did...for their actions, for their lack of courage and for their lack of honor,” added Sandra.
A spokesperson for NCIS reported this week that the investigation is still open. NCIS will not release any further details.
The Marines are not giving out the names or ranks of those who may have been involved.