State Department acknowledges Marine’s heart was taken in Greece

U.S. Marine Brian LaLoup
U.S. Marine Brian LaLoup

With the aid of U.S. Sen. Patrick Toomey, the Coatesville parents of a U.S. Marine who are suing the Greek and U.S. governments over the removal of their son’s heart received a letter from the former U.S. ambassador to Greece confirming some details of the story.

But Craig and Beverly LaLoup, in a response letter, say they still don’t understand how or why the heart of their son, 21-year-old U.S. Marine Sgt. Brian LaLoup, was taken out of his body after he died by suicide while stationed in Athens, Greece.

“How is any of this acceptable? How can an American Marine be treated in this fashion? And how can the Greek Government get away with not answering our Governments request for answers?” the LaLoups wrote in response to an informational letter from Sen. Toomey’s office, based on reports from former Ambassador to Greece Daniel Bennett Smith. “When the Greek government did not respond to the original protests, why did Ambassador Smith take no action to protect our son?”

Aaron Freiwald, the attorney representing the family in their lawsuit filed against the U.S. and Greek governments, said the letter was the first confirmation from the State Department to confirm that an illegal autopsy took place, but it raises new questions.

“If this Ambassador Smith and the State Department said, ‘Stop, don’t do this’ – why were they unsuccessful in protecting this Marine?” Freiwald asked.

Sgt. LaLoup, 21, committed suicide in August 2012 while stationed at the U.S. embassy in Athens, Greece. Only in September, a month after LaLoup was buried with full honors back at home did a soldier accidentally inform his mother that his heart was removed under unknown circumstances at the hospital, according to the family’s lawsuit, filed in December.

LaLoup’s parents do not know if LaLoup’s heart was destroyed or stolen in some kind of organ harvesting operation.

In a letter shared with the family through Sen. Toomey’s office, Ambassador Smith said he made every effort to prevent an autopsy and filed numerous complaints with the Greek government.

A letter shared with the family from Sen. Toomey’s office states that Smith says he made numerous efforts to protect LaLoup’s body.

Smith told the hospital not to autopsy LaLoup’s body, and also notified the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, according to the letter. When Smith’s staff requested the hospital release LaLoup’s body on Aug. 16, they declined and said they would autopsy the body. Smith says he called the Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chief of Staff of the Foreign Minister insisting there be no autopsy, and on Aug. 17 called again to say that an autopsy would violate the Vienna Convention.

The autopsy took place on Aug. 18. After the LaLoups told Smith on Sept. 18 that Sgt. LaLoup’s body was missing its heart, his staff interviewed the physician who performed the autopsy.

On Sept. 20, Smith “hand-carried” documents to the Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chief of Staff of the Foreign Minister asking for a full investigation into the location of LaLoup’s heart.

The embassy reportedly renewed these requests in April and August 2013, but did not receive a response. Smith left the U.S. Embassy in Athens in August 2013.

“I remain deeply saddened by the tragic death of Sgt. LaLoup and the subsequent events regarding his heart,” Smith wrote in the letter. “This matter continues to be a high priority for the Embassy in Athens, and for the U.S. Government.”

But the LaLoups are not satisfied and wrote that they believe Smith “did not do all he could.”

The U.S. and Greek governments have not yet filed papers in response to the LaLoup’s lawsuit, Freiwald said.

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Follow Sam Newhouse on Twitter: @scnewhouse

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