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Parents of teens killed by paramilitary group sue US Army; trial set for July

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SEATTLE — A federal judge has set a July 2016 trial date for a lawsuit filed against the United States by the parents of two teens who were killed in 2011 by an anti-government paramilitary group in the woods near the Fort Stewart Army base in Georgia.

The parents of Michael Roark, 19, of Marysville, Washington, and his girlfriend, 17-year-old Tiffany York, said Army commanders should have intervened in the activities of the group, which called itself "Forever Enduring, Always Ready," or FEAR. It was made up of soldiers who planned to kill President Barack Obama and other violent activities. The group's leader and three others killed Roark and York because they feared they would reveal their plans to authorities, the lawsuit said.

Pvt. Isaac Aguigui of Cashmere, Washington, was convicted in the killing of Roark and York, as well as the murder of his pregnant wife. Three others also involved in the shooting have been convicted and sentenced. But the parents of the two teens said the lawsuit, filed Dec. 12 in U.S. District Court in Seattle, seek "to hold the Army accountable for this heartbreakingly preventable tragedy."

"Army officials recklessly allowed FEAR to form and fester within its ranks at Fort Stewart, Georgia, despite abundant signs that Pvt. Aguigui and his cohorts were dangerous and mentally unstable soldiers in desperate need of arrest and treatment," the lawsuit said. "As a result of the Army's negligence, two promising young people lost their lives on the cusp of adulthood."

Acting U.S. Attorney Annette Hayes filed a response to the complaint on Feb. 23 denying the allegations and saying the lawsuit should be dismissed.

The lawsuit claims the Army's Criminal Investigation Command failed to see obvious signs that Aguigui had killed his wife in July 2011. He was not charged in her murder until April 2013 — long after he had ordered the murders of Roark and York, the lawsuit said. The Army paid Aguigui $519,400 in death benefits "despite clear evidence of his guilt."

That money was critical to the development of FEAR, the lawsuit said.

Aguigui used the funds to arm the group, including $32,000 in weapons purchased from High Mountain Hunting Supply in Wenatchee, the lawsuit said. He also spent $16,000 on sixteen guns, the lawsuit said. The FBI looked into the purchases after one of the private's relatives reported the gun-buys to the Wenatchee police. The FBI relayed concerns about the purchases to its counterparts in Georgia and at Fort Stewart, but the Army took no action, the lawsuit said.

Aguigui recruited members to his terrorist militia by targeting troubled soldiers, the lawsuit said. Roark had been stationed at Fort Stewart, but he was discharged in the fall of 2011 for minor misconduct. Others also had criminal histories. During that period, FEAR expanded its criminal activities and terrorist plans, the lawsuit said.

Aguigui and others took Roark and York into the woods so the soldiers could learn interrogation techniques, but after York was shot, they also killed Roark because "he could not be trusted to keep quiet after seeing his sweetheart gunned down," the lawsuit said.

The deaths of Aguigui's wife, Roark and York "are not anomalies that took the Army by surprise," the suit said.

"Rather, they reflect a pattern over the last decade in which the military has accepted more and more recruits with criminal records while retaining more and more who behaved egregiously in uniform," the lawsuit said. Soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are susceptible to being recruited by anti-government militias, but the Army "turned a blind eye to organized and violent groups within its ranks," the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for each of the four parents. The bench trial before Judge Marsha Pechman is expected to run 15 days.

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Follow Martha Bellisle at https://twitter.com/marthabellisle

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