At last, a little comfort for Whites

My father is a man who finds satisfaction through the joys of repetition. Specifically, he seems to gather solace through repeating the same quotes over and over again — either to stress the significance of his message to the recipient, or to just strengthen his belief in the words he regurgitates.

“Is your name McCann or McCan’t,” he’ll ask when one expresses doubt about the ability to perform a task. “It’s all about P.M.A. — Positive Mental Attitude,” when he catches someone looking down. Or, probably the one that causes the most groans, “Did anybody ever tell you life was fair?”

No, indeed, nobody ever did tell me life was fair. However, it seems that life is sometimes less fair to some than others. Case in point, the White family near Dagsboro.

This is a good, and genuinely kind, family that I’ve gotten the fortunate opportunity to know a little bit over the past few years because of less-than-fortunate circumstances. Their youngest son, Russell, joined the United States Marine Corps to do his part to fight terrorism after the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. Russell trained hard, joined the brotherhood of Marines and was sent off to Afghanistan to join in the struggle.

He was killed on June 20, 2004 — and he was 19.

A grateful nation mourned the loss of another American serviceman, while a saddened family and group of friends felt the more personal sting of the abbreviated life of a loved one. Russell was “the local kid” to some, the former Indian River High School football player to others and the happy-go-lucky kid with the playful streak to those who knew him best. And he was gone.

Reports of the incident that took Russell’s life were sketchy. There was talk of an accident involving the cleaning of a weapon and a subsequent accidental discharge, and various other theories. There was no certainty to the cause of the event, and, like any family would, the Whites wanted answers. Information eventually trickled in and another Marine was identified as the shooter, an accident created by either cleaning his weapon or showboating with his firearm, depending on which attorney is currently speaking.

That Marine, Lance Cpl. Frederico Pimienta, was to face court martial charges at Camp Lejeune, N.C. last June. However, he took off the day before the trial. In his physical absence, the court martial board convicted him of involuntary manslaughter and making a false statement to investigators, and sentenced him to 12 years of incarceration, as well as a dishonorable discharge.

But he was gone, as was the opportunity for a least a semblance of closure for the White family.

Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) personnel quickly took the lead in the hunt for Pimienta, and after 30 days of being unaccounted for, Pimienta also faced charges of violating Article 85 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice — desertion.

“It’s a sad case,” said NCIS Special Agent Rob O’Dwyer, speaking by phone from his office at Camp Lejeune. “We get Marines who flee all the time, but obviously this was a lot more high-profile because of the nature of his original crime.”

It was of highest profile in the White household. Frustrated, and eager to do anything to help bring an end to the situation, Russell’s father, Gregg White, hired private investigators to aid in the search and kept in regular contact with federal investigators.

On Wednesday, Feb. 15, Pimienta was taken into custody in Spain.

“This is a huge relief,” said Gregg White. “Kudos to the NCIS for all they did. Now we can just celebrate Russell’s life. We feel Russell is at peace now, and we can move forward in remembering him, instead of concentrating on this other stuff.”

O’Dwyer, the lead investigator in the case for NCIS, was also upbeat.

“We’re very happy [Pimienta’s in custody],” said O’Dwyer. “This has to be a big relief for the White family ... A lot of people contributed during this investigation, and there’s a lot of satisfaction for all of them right now.”

Gregg White said he and his wife, Tricia, would definitely be going to the next trial for Pimienta — and that Tricia wants to speak to Pimienta personally. For now, though, there is at least a some sense of peace for the White family.

“The last eight months have been horrible,” said Gregg White. “I don’t think I could ever begin to thank our family, friends and the community for all their support and prayers. Our prayers have been answered with him being caught.”

That only seems fair.