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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  • by Anonymous on Jun 20, 2012 at 01:38 PM
    Wow let's try not to make this into a democrat vs. republican never ending fight. The priority here is to bring this man home. To say that our country owes nothing to the individuals who rsik their lives to go overseas to earn a living by working in the areas our military is actively involved is ridiculous. Private citizens you chastize are reparing and rebuilding and doing jobs our military can't because they're protecting and serving. These citizens are as important and DESERVING of protection and consideration as the innocent civilians who live there. To say differently is insensitive to this family. No president past or present nor future is without fault in this movement. We had to go, we're there and we will be for a long time. But FLoydareturbo made a great point. If this man died on US Embassy soil, why is his body in Iraqi hands? Let's research that instead of blaming this poor man for choosing to work there.
    • reply
      by anonymous, too on Jun 21, 2012 at 09:10 AM in reply to
      as several others have put it, Since Mr. Copeland died in his quarters at the U.S. Embassy compound, was he not on sovereign U.S. soil at the time of his death. Does this not take the Iraqi gov't out of the equation. Mr. Copeland was performing contract aircraft maintanance work for the U. S. Embassy. He died on U. s. soil. It is my underswtanding that his body is still on Embassy soil, that the Iraqi gov't doesn't even have possession of it. So why doesn't the Embassy just send him home instead of the ruse of the Iraqi law. Why isn't DynCorp doing more. He was an American working for the American Government (Embass), who died on Sovereign American Embassy soil.Should be no brainer.
  • by Job Hunter Location: Oklahoma on Jun 20, 2012 at 11:29 AM
    I know exactly what's going on and it's all about money and has very little to do with the government. Right now I'm looking for a job and there are a bunch of them overseas in this area. It's very tempting because they offer you a huge amount of money and the best thing is they say it's tax free. To avoid paying taxes on it you have to stay out of the US for that whole working year/tax cycle. So this is what avoiding taxes and big money get's you. No wonder why the government avoids this situation. Makes simple sense. And where did the President or politics fall into this; no where. Tax dodging = no gov. assistance.
    • reply
      by Brett on Jun 20, 2012 at 11:39 PM in reply to Job Hunter
      First of all not all of the contractors income is tax free. Only a small portion of it. Also, you have to stay out of the U.S. 335 days a year. It also doesn't apply to the contract that Mike was on. I've been over here (Afghanistan & Iraq) 3 years now. Mike worked for me for 2 years. You should probably make sure you know what you're talking about.
      • reply
        by Mickey on Jun 22, 2012 at 01:18 PM in reply to Brett
        So, what exactly is that small portion that's tax free? Enlighten us.
  • by Anonymous on Jun 20, 2012 at 10:17 AM
    Wow, for Inhofe to bash a Republican, it must have been bad.
  • by Anonymous on Jun 20, 2012 at 09:25 AM
    My prayers to the family for a quick resolution.
  • by floydareturbo Location: bryan county on Jun 20, 2012 at 06:00 AM
    Would this be happening if there was a respected president in the White House? How did the Iraqi government ever gain possession? Mr. Copeland died on US embassy grounds. It sounds suspiciously as if a corrupt foreign government is using this tragedy as a means for their own ends. America desperately needs a strong president and an effective state department.
    • reply
      by Phil on Jun 20, 2012 at 09:21 AM in reply to floydareturbo
      As much as you would like to blame the President, this has NOTHING to do with the President or his policies. This was a private citizen, working for a private company who sends their employees into dangerous, war torn countries where many of the citizens are hostile to Americans. These employees go at their own risk. Our country owes them nothing for their decision to voluntarily put their lives in danger for monetary gain. And in case you have forgotten, we have a strong President. One who had the guts to send our best forces into a hostile country and kill the most wanted terrorist in the world. Not to mention all the terrorist leaders killed in drone attacks that don't put American lives at risk. But I guess you might want the kind of "strong" President who kills over 4500 American soldiers for no good reason, while letting the person responsible for 9/11 get away.
  • by Willie on Jun 19, 2012 at 05:34 PM
    "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." . . . . . That's what we can expect from the type of people that get elected by party line vote, like what happened in the last election. Neither Roberts or Brecheen have any business being in any elected office. They were elected because they had an (R) next to their name. Not because of their qualifications. Brecheen has proven himself to be the most worthless State Senator we have ever had representing us. Now Roberts shows that he is no substitute for real leadership. People better start choosing their elected officials for their understanding of the issues that really matter, and their experience working in the communities they represent. Not voting for someone just because they have an (R) or a (D) next to their name.
    • reply
      by bubba j on Jun 20, 2012 at 07:49 AM in reply to Willie
      willie, you are exactly right! We are going to be in serious trouble in a few years going at this rate.I don't think people care, show me reality tv, video games, and sports and there happy. I would add a candidate's past record and NOT his rhetoric is what matters to me...oh and any attorney, Negative vote..lol
      • reply
        by Lawana on Jun 20, 2012 at 06:42 PM in reply to bubba j
        This man was int marines and served in Iraq. I'm not sure how long he was in the Marine but it was more than one time. The type of work he did he could have made good money here but he chose to join the Marines and te pay was not enough to support his family so he took this job. To hear some one to say that the gov. does not owe him enough to bring his body home is just so terrible.
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