COLBERT - The family of Michael Copeland is still waiting for answers more than 10 days after the former Marine and National Guardsman passed away in Iraq.
Copeland, a Colbert native, had just started a private contracting job as an aircraft mechanic when he was found in his living quarters on or near the U.S. Embassy in Iraq on June 9. It is not known what caused his death, and it is not clear who has possession of Copeland’s remains but the family has been told that the body is being held on Embassy grounds.
Whether it is the U.S. or Iraqi governments, one of those two entities will not release his remains to the family. Now, his wife, parents and siblings are dealing with a double loss.
The situation has been reported in local media and has now touched off a battle of words between state leaders, all of whom are calling for the release of Copeland’s body to his family.
Regardless of accusations of political “grandstanding,” the family plans to stay vigilant and has started a petition at SignOn.org entitled “Bring Michael David Copeland Home.” A vigil is planned for 8 p.m. Wednesday at Colbert United Methodist Church.
“What we’re having a hard time coming to terms with is that our government has our son on US soil (embassy grounds) and is letting the Iraqis dictate what happens to his body,” said his father, Michael Copeland, Sr., on Monday. “It’s disappointing and frustrating. We’re not getting any answers. And we may never know what happened to him.”
State Rep. Dustin Roberts of Durant released a statement Tuesday calling on Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and the state’s Senate and Congressional delegation to urge Iraqi leaders to release the body of Copeland.
“This is outrageous and offensive to the Copeland family,” said Roberts. “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.”
One of those senators, Jim Inhofe (R-Tulsa), accused Roberts of a “grand stand in the media” in a statement released this week. The statement from Inhofe also indicates that there may be some behind the scenes work to resolve the situation, but provides no direct answers.
“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,” reads the Inhofe statement issued by his communications director, Jared Young. “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.”
Congressman Dan Boren’s office has been in touch with the family of Copeland since shortly after his death in Iraq, according to a statement from Boren.
“The Congressman’s staff is working diligently with the State Department to determine the cause of death and to achieve the immediate return of Mr. Copeland’s remains to his family in Oklahoma. Congressman Boren understands that this is a frustrating situation for the Copeland family during a time of grief and will continue to work with the State Department until the situation is resolved.”
The family said today that the issue has been handed to the U.S. Consulate and they were expecting to hear from them as of 9 a.m. today.