The U.S. Army says dive teams are searching the turbulent waters off Cape Lookout National Seashore in hopes of finding evidence — including body parts — linked to the killing of a Fort Bragg soldier on Memorial Day weekend.
To date, investigators have reported only the head of 21-year-old Specialist Enrique Roman-Martinez has been recovered, after it washed up on the Shackleford Banks.
The Army has released few details of its ongoing homicide investigation of the case, despite intense media attention.
Cape Lookout National Seashore raised suspicions Dec. 4, when it announced Power Squadron Spit would be closed Dec. 6-11 for "a joint training exercise with NPS, USCG and the US Army." The closure includes the water and the beach, the park said.
National Park Service officials confirmed to McClatchy News the "joint training exercise" and the Army's investigation are one and the same. That area is near one of the park's camping areas and is directly across from the island where the soldier's head washed up.
The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command and FBI's Evidence Recovery and Dive Teams joined forces to search the waters off the park, 82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs Officer Lt. Col. Mike Burns said in a news release. Fellow soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division are also assisting in the operation at Cape Lookout, according to the release.
Army investigators say Roman-Martinez, a native of Chino, California, was "camping with fellow soldiers" when he vanished May 22 from the South Core Banks, one of the barrier islands that make up Cape Lookout National Seashore.
A head washed up May 29 on a nearby beach and experts used dental records to make a positive identification of the remains as those of Roman-Martinez, McClatchy News reported last week.
The autopsy found evidence of "chop" marks at the neck and the soldier's jaw was broken in at least two places. However, due to the lack of a body, a specific cause of death has not been established, it was reported.
The Army Criminal Investigation Command is offering a $25,000 reward "for credible information leading to the apprehension and conviction of the person(s) responsible for the homicide." No arrests have been announced.
"Our Special Agents continue to work closely with several Federal and local agencies on this investigation," U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command spokesman Chris Grey said in a release. "We are aggressively investigating the death of this soldier and will not stop until we bring those responsible to justice."
The mystery surrounding the investigation — and the grisly details of the killing — have resulted in heavy media coverage in Roman-Martinez's home state of California. A Change.org petition set up to raise awareness and "rally justice" (Justice For Enrique Roman Martinez) has gotten more than 20,000 signatures.