Soldier's suicide leaves family with unanswered questions

LONGVIEW, Wash. - It's the knock on the door that every military family dreads, and it happened a year ago for the family of a Longview soldier. But that was only the beginning of their pain.

In the weeks and months that followed, the family of Spc. Mikayla Bragg learned from the military that her death was ruled a suicide.

Why would the young woman take her life? That's the question that is haunting her family, and after they received a 205-page report on her death, they are troubled by what they have learned.

"When she told me that she was going to join the National Guard, I was like 'OK, Mikayla, I support you in whatever you do," her father, Steve Bragg, said when we asked him about his daughter's career in the military.

Days later, Steve Bragg would come home from work and learn that his daughter had instead enlisted in the Army. It all happened so fast - boot camp, deployment and suddenly his child was on the other side of the world.

"She was really happy with what she was doing," her father said. "She wanted to better herself."

After five months on the ground in Afghanistan, Bragg was awaiting Christmas and had purchased a plane ticket to return home.

So what happened at the Bagram airfield the morning of Dec. 21, 2011, when her body was found in a guard tower where she had been stationed?

The official word from the military is that Bragg died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. For the family, the details of her death were unclear early on and they are still trying to understand what happened.

"They go by basically a script," her father said. "You know, he sat down and explained to me 'the Department of Defense is sorry to inform you that your daughter has been killed.' "

Bragg's fellow soldiers wrote in the report that she was "as happy and sarcastic as always," "seemed very happy the morning of the suicide," and "the morning of the incident she was happy."

But there was also a reference that Bragg had confided to another soldier that she had gotten drunk with a civilian, had passed out and had awoken to the civilian taking her clothes off and taking advantage of her. The soldier who wrote that in the report said Bragg "made me promise not to tell anyone about it." The soldier said Bragg had shared that story a month before her death.

We asked her father if there are still things that he wants to know.

"I have a lot of questions," he said. "There are still a couple of things I haven't received yet - bits of information that hopefully will answer some of those questions. It doesn't change the fact that she was over there fighting for our freedom. She was there fighting every day, doing her job and what she was asked to do."

Bragg had been treated by military counselors for previous mental health issues the year before she deployed but those reports never made it to the commanding officers of the unit she was with when she died.

And had she attempted suicide before? The Army says yes - that she drank a cup of bleach at one point, had talked about wanting to crash her car and had suicidal thoughts. But she later told her father that the bleach incident was an accident and he said he believed her.

There is more documentation that the Bragg family will be receiving about the death and the investigation into the alleged sexual assault. KATU will keep digging and keep you posted.