COLBERT, OK-It's been nearly two weeks since Michael David Copeland, a former Marine and Colbert native died in Iraq. Wednesday, we hear from the State Department and the attorney his family has hired to try and speed up the process of bringing his body back home.
Attorney Brent Berry said the State Department has now turned Copeland's case over to the Bureau of Consular Affairs, which investigates the death of any American overseas. Copeland's family said they were told Iraqi law requires an autopsy be performed before a person's body can be returned to their home country. Berry said they're trying to get Iraq to issue Copeland's death certificate. He said the state department has now revealed that Copeland did not die of SARS as the family was originally told and they don't know what caused his death.
Berry said Governor Mary Fallin, Congressmen Dan Boren and James Lankford, along with Senator Jim Inhofe are working to resolve the situation.
"Unfortunately we don't have all the answers right now. We're gonna have to let the diplomatic process work and we just hope our people over there can convince the Iraqis do the right thing and let him come back here," he said.
The State Department has released a statement saying: "...There are no restrictions from the American side delaying the return of Mr. Copeland's remains."
But the battle to bring Michael Copeland's body back from Iraq was put aside Wednesday night as friends and family remembered his life.
Dozens of people came to Wednesday's candlelight vigil to pay tribute to a family man and someone they call a true patriot. Michael's parents were too distraught to speak on camera, but his wife says she's overwhelmed at the community's support.
More than 50 candles were lit Wednesday night in remembrance of Michael David Copeland who died in Iraq almost two weeks ago.
"We're here to support the Copeland family and their efforts to bring Michael home. He belongs here, he doesn't belong in Iraq."
Alisa Carter has known Michael Copeland since he was a child.
"My step kids grew up with him and they went to school in Silo together and they've known him all their life. It's so sad to see that something like this could happen to somebody so close to us," she said.
Carter said Michael loved serving his country, but most of all, he loved his family. She hopes the Copelands get the answers they need, not only to see justice served for Michael, but so they can find closure.
"It is a mess. It's really scary actually if you think about it, what right do they have to hold an American citizen overseas when theres no logical reason for him to be there," she said.
"I heard it on the news tonight and so I immediately drove from Durant over here. I've been here for an hour and a half waiting."
Marine veteran Erika Claborn said she immediately picked up the phone to reach out to state leaders as soon as she saw our story about Michael's death.
"It's unacceptable. This Marine needs to be brought home, we don't leave our Marines behind even though he was a government employee," she said.
Claborn said she hopes the pressure from concerned citizens leads to action by the government.
"As long as we get Sgt. Copeland back on us soil and the family gets the closure that they need that's the most important thing right now," she said.
"I hope it brings a little bit of attention to what's going on, I mean they, we just want him home," said Carter.
"Semper Fi to every Marine out there. Please do not forget Sgt. Copeland in your prayers, do whatever you have to do to bring our Marine home," said Claborn.
Claborn said she is working with a Marine recruiter to have an Honor Guard for Copeland, when his body is to be brought home.
U.S. Congressman Dan Boren released a statement Wednesday saying: "We are working diligently with the State Department to achieve the immediate return of Mr. Copeland's body to Oklahoma."
The Copeland's attorney Brent Berry said he expects to find out more from the Bureau of Consular Affairs Thursday.
We'll keep you updated.
Statement from U.S. Congressman Dan Boren:
STATEMENT ON DEATH OF MICHAEL DAVID COPELAND
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
WASHINGTON D.C. - Congressman Boren released the following statement regarding the death of Michael David Copeland in Iraq. Copeland was a resident of Colbert, Oklahoma and was working as a contractor in Iraq:
"First and foremost, I would like to send my deepest sympathies to the family of Michael David Copeland. My office has been in touch with the Copeland family since shortly after his death in Iraq. I understand that this is a frustrating situation for the family during a time of grief, and we are working diligently with the State Department to achieve the immediate return of Mr. Copeland's body to Oklahoma. We will continue to work with the Copeland family, the State Department, Governor Fallin's office, and the rest of the Oklahoma congressional delegation until the situation is resolved. In order to protect the privacy of the family, I will not be discussing further details of this case."
Statement from U.S. Department of State:
"We sympathize with the family of Mr. Michael Copeland, who passed away while employed as a contractor for the U.S. Mission in Iraq.
We are grateful for his service to the U.S. Government and express our deepest condolences to his loved ones.
As a general matter, an autopsy is required under Iraqi law before remains are allowed to leave the country. The Embassy has requested that the Iraqi Ministry of Health and the Coroner's office consider appropriate and legal means to allow the return of Mr. Copeland's body to the U.S. without an autopsy.
Embassy officials are working with Iraqi authorities to have Mr. Copeland's remains transported back to the United States as expeditiously as possible and in accordance with the wishes of his family.
The United States is ready to receive the body as soon as this matter is resolved. There are no restrictions from the American side delaying the return of Mr. Copeland's remains.