Local lawmaker calls state leaders to help bring Colbert man's body back

By: Victoria Maranan Email
By: Victoria Maranan Email

COLBERT, OK-Thursday, we told you about a veteran marine contractor who died while working for a company in Iraq. Family friends reached out to First News and told us they weren't getting straight answers about why his body couldn't be brought back to Colbert.
Tuesday, lawmakers and other state officials said they're doing what they can to help.

Michael Copeland was in Iraq, doing maintenance on aircraft for DynCorp. His father, Mike, said his son was on U.S. Embassy soil when he died. U.S. Congressman Dan Boren told us that hasn't been confirmed, but there were no signs of foul play. Mike said regardless where his son died or how, his body should be returned home and at least one state lawmaker agrees.
It's been over a week since Michael Copeland was found dead in his bunk in Iraq.

"There is absolutely no excuse in this world that you could give me that would convince me that there's a reason why he should not be home," said Copeland's wife, Angela.

Michael's father, Mike, said they were told by the State Department that Iraqi law requires an autopsy before a body is transported out of the country. Friday, they said they were given a different reason.

"We have learned that this rumor that Michael David possibly had SARS, which we are already pretty sure is not true. It's sure enough, not true," said his father, Mike.

"Michael did not have SARS. He would have been coughing, short of breath, difficulty breathing, fever, he didn't have any of those symptoms when I talked to him," said Copeland's mother, Connie.

The Copelands said they got a call from the State Department Tuesday morning and were told that the agency can't talk to them anymore because of Congressional inquiries and media involvement.

"I think they're hiding something," said Connie.

We left several messages with the State Department, our calls were never returned.

"In America, we have our laws, they have their laws there. He is an American citizen, he needs to be brought back home to American soil to his family so he can be laid to rest."

Oklahoma State Rep. Dustin Roberts said he's calling on state and federal lawmakers to help get Copeland's body back.

"Our congressional delegation from Oklahoma is working diligently to try to get Mr. Copeland back home and I applaud their efforts."

"What Gov. Fallin and her office has done is to reach out to the members of the Oklahoma congressional delegation and make it clear that if there's any way the governor can help to resolve the situation, our office is willing to provide assistance," said Alex Weintz of Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin's Office.

"He's been there for almost 12 days and whatever they're doing is not quite enough because he's still there," said Connie.

"I'm trying to stay optimistic and I'm thankful for any and all help," said Angela.

"We're gonna get him back home. We're gonna get him back home safe and sound so they can lay him to rest," said Rep. Roberts.

"My bags are packed since day one. I'll go over there myself if that would help, and bring him home," said Mike Copeland.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe released a statement in response to Rep. Roberts' comments.

Inhofe said "it's insensitive and disturbing that a local state representative, like Dustin Roberts, would try to grand stand in the media over this heartbreaking loss."

He added that members of Congress are working with the State Department and are trying to resolve the issue.

Statement from U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe:

STATEMENT ON DEATH OF MICHAEL COPELAND

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The office of U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe released the following statement regarding the death of Michael Copeland in Iraq. Copeland is an Oklahoman who was working as a contractor in Iraq:

"Out of respect for the family who has lost their loved one in Iraq, we do not openly discuss our work on behalf of constituents. At the same time, it is insensitive and disturbing that a local state representative like Dustin Roberts would try to grand stand in the media over this heartbreaking loss. Had he bothered to pick up the phone and check with the congressional delegation, he would have learned that we have been working on this issue since last week when the family made us aware of it. We are working with the State Department to have his body returned to his family and the issue resolved as soon as possible." - Jared Young, Communications Director for U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.)

Statement from OK State Rep. Dustin Roberts:

Roberts Calls on State Leaders to Help Bring Oklahoma Citizen’s Body Home from Iraq

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Dustin Roberts today is calling on Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and the state’s Senate and Congressional delegation to urge Iraqi leaders to release the body of former Marine and Colbert native Michael David Copeland, who died on June 9 in Baghdad while working as a private contractor.

According to Copeland’s family, the Iraqi government has refused to release the body until an autopsy can be performed. The State Department told the family that Iraqi leaders believe Copeland died of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), but the Copeland family says it cannot be possible.

“This is outrageous and offensive to the Copeland family,” said Roberts, R-Durant. “It has now been 10 days and they still refuse to release his body so his family can give him a proper burial. Michael David Copeland was a man who served our nation as a Marine and our state as a National Guardsman, and his family deserves better than this. I am asking Gov. Fallin and our U.S. Congressman and Senators to look into this matter and help this family get answers.”

Copeland’s family has told Rep. Roberts that he was alert and spoke with his father on the phone just 12 hours before his death. The family said according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website, no person has died from SARS since 2003 and that Copeland displayed no symptoms of the disease.

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