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Horseplay with M4 triggers tragedy

Investigation finds negligent discharge killed Marine in Helmand

Apr. 10, 2013 - 03:39PM   |  
Marines with 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion attached to 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 7, pay their respects to Cpl. Alex F. Domion's battlefield cross on Forward Operating Base Geronimo, Helmand province, Afghanistan, on Nov. 29.
Marines with 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion attached to 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 7, pay their respects to Cpl. Alex F. Domion's battlefield cross on Forward Operating Base Geronimo, Helmand province, Afghanistan, on Nov. 29. (Lance Cpl. Robert Walters / Marine Corps)
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Cpl. Alex Domion ()

Cpl. Alex Domion was at Forward Operating Base Geronimo in Afghanistan when he decided to have some fun with another Marine.

They began simulating that they were clearing rooms in their quarters, aiming M4 carbines at each other and yelling, “I got you!”

The horseplay preceded a negligent discharge on Oct. 31 that killed Domion, 21, a Marine Corps investigation found. Other Marines rushed to the corporal's side, but he was pronounced dead minutes later at 12:06 p.m. after being carried to a nearby battalion aid station on base, according to documents released to Marine Corps Times through the Freedom of Information Act.

The documents outline for the first time how Domion, of Richland Springs, N.Y., died on a base in Helmand province. FOB Geronimo, in Nawa district, served at the time as the battalion headquarters for 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. Domion and the other Marines present were with Lejeune's 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion attached to 3/8.

The cause of Domion's death was a “blatant, negligent disregard for fundamental weapons handling and safety procedures,” the investigation found. The Marines' actions prior to the shooting “involved room clearing scenarios involving unloaded weapons, to include pulling the charging handle to the rear and pulling the trigger to generate an audible click as they simulated engaging each other,” documents said. The incident took place in the billeting area for 2nd CEB's 1st Platoon, Charlie Company.

The other Marine involved was Cpl. Jesse Finneman, Marine officials said. His name was redacted from the report, but he was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in a general court-martial convened in January by I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) in Afghanistan, said 1st Lt. Joanna Cappeto, a I MEF spokeswoman at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Finneman was sentenced to 24 months in the brig, saw his rank reduced to private and will receive a bad-conduct discharge, said 1st Lt. Oliver David, a spokesman at Lejeune for 2nd Marine Division. Finneman is currently confined at Navy Consolidated Brig Chesapeake, Va. A pretrial agreement caps his confinement to 12 months, Cappeto said.

The case highlights the dangers in handling weapons casually. Marines who witnessed the shooting said they had never seen Finneman or Domion play with the weapons before, and that it ended tragically less than a half hour after it began.

One corporal said in a witness statement that he warned Finneman to stop, but was brushed off with the comment “OK, boot,” an insult in the Corps that means someone is inexperienced or acting that way.

Moments later, things took a tragic turn. The site of Domion's gunshot wound was redacted from the report, but it said he had no exit wound and was thrown into a doorframe by the force of the shot.

“All I see is blood, and my ears start to ring,” said the corporal in his witness statement, recalling the incident. “Then I hear [Finneman] screaming ‘What the f—- Dom' and ‘Go get help!”

A fatal mistake

The horseplay began with Domion and Finneman engaging in a series of “what-if” scenarios on how to respond when an insurgent presents a weapon, other Marines who were nearby told investigators. Finneman cleared his weapon, and he and Domion took turns pointing it at each other with the other Marine parrying it away, the investigation found.

The conversation then shifted to discussing what the best options were to clear a room defended by an armed insurgent. Both Marines simulated engaging each other, trash talking and laughing along the way, the documents said. Finneman, believing they were finished and heading to get lunch, re-inserted a magazine into his M4, the investigation found. Domion then indicated he wanted to “clear” a room, which led to them laughing and yelling, “I got you!” to each other, military documents said.

Finneman hid in one of the rooms until Domion entered and went “through the physical gesture, as they had been doing earlier, of raising his weapon, pulling charging handle to rear, and pulling trigger to generate audible click, and in doing so produced a negligent discharge at approximately 1145,” according to a statement included in the investigation's report.

About eight other Marines were in the quarters when the shooting occurred, including some who were lying in their racks watching movies on laptop computers, military documents said. They rushed to assist and carried Domion to the battalion aid station within two minutes, but it was too late.

The investigating officer, whose name is also redacted from the report, said the incident showed negligence by both Domion and Finneman, but that the shooting was unintentional.

Few details about the incident had been released prior to the release of the investigation's findings to Marine Corps Times. Domion's father, Ken, told his hometown newspaper in November that he had been told his son was killed in an accidental shooting, but had few additional details.

“Two Marines were doing unauthorized training. I don't know what that means,” Domion told the Observer-Dispatch of Utica, N.Y. “One of them pulled the trigger on [what he thought was] an unloaded weapon.” He could not be reached for comment by Marine Corps Times.

Domion had just started his second deployment to Afghanistan, and had a wife, Amber, the story added. The fallen Marine's Facebook page is filled with messages mourning his death.

“Words cannot express the way I feel,” said one post from what appears to be a fellow Marine. “We have lost an outstanding gunslinger and great husband to this war. My thoughts go out to his wife and family. Brother you saved my life more than once. I will always miss our long nights smoking cigars and drinking the near beer talking about home. I'll see you soon. Love ya man.”

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