PHILADELPHIA, PA – Craig and Beverly LaLoup have accused Greece of stealing the heart of their son, Marine Sergeant Brian LaLoup, 21, who committed suicide on August 22, 2012 while stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Athens.
The LaLoups filed a lawsuit against the United States, the Department of Defense, and the Navy, in Federal Court in Philadelphia, for the “mishandling” of their son’s body, and for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
They allege that the Pentagon tried “to conceal that their son had been illegally autopsied by the Greek government, which included the removal of his heart, and that the defendants did not take the necessary actions to have their son’s heart returned from Greece. As a result, the plaintiffs unwittingly buried their son without his heart and have suffered severe emotional injuries.”
According to the LaLoups’ claim, Sgt. LaLoup shot himself in the head after attending an off-duty party at the embassy and that neither embassy officials nor the government made the incident known to the Press or the public.
The parents stated that “during the party, Sgt. LaLoup reported to a fellow service member that he was thinking about suicide.” As required by Marine Corps protocol, these comments were reported to the Detachment Commander, identified only as Staff Sgt. Martinez.
The parents claim that “unfortunately, Staff Sgt. Martinez failed to follow appropriate protocols and procedures, which required him to obtain supervision and medical treatment for Sgt. LaLoup, and instead decided to take him out for more drinking. Prior to leaving and despite being visibly intoxicated and distraught, Sgt. LaLoup was allowed to pass the guard at the entry to the chancery and enter the response room. The chancery, which had been left unsecured, is where weapons were stored. Thereafter, according to military reports, Sgt. LaLoup shot himself in the head with an Embassy service weapon.”
An ambulance took LaLoup’s body to the Evangelismos General Hospital in Athens, where, “contrary to established protocols,” his body was not guarded, his parents say. The lawsuit states that “after Sgt. LaLoup was pronounced dead, the Greek government, in violation of Sgt. LaLoup’s diplomatic status, autopsied his body. They said that “during the autopsy Sgt. LaLoup’s heart was stolen and illegally harvested by the Greek government.”
The LaLoups claim that “it was readily known or foreseeable that Sgt. LaLoup’s body would be mutilated, disfigured, and illegally autopsied if left behind unguarded. Yet, defendants did nothing to insure that Sgt. LaLoup was treated with the respect owed a United States Marine.”
The U.S. Embassy in Athens did not reply to TNH’s request for comment. Aaron Freiwald, the LaLoups’ attorney, considered an authority in litigation cases such as this one, told TNH that “this is a terrible story, a mistreatment of this Marine and his body and the parents who have been left not only in their grief and sadness but now in a terrible emotional distress over how awfully this was handled.”
Asked if only his heart was missing or other pivotal organs as well, he said that “as far as we know it was his heart.” He said that the officials at the American embassy in Athens “have expressed regret and condolences.”
He said believes that LaLoup’s heart was taken out at the Evangelismos Hospital in Athens. He said “this is what we understand” and he added that, “We don’t know for certain at what point it was taken. Sgt. LaLoup was in the hospital for a period of time before he passed away, so we don’t know if the heart was taken while he was still alive or it was taken as part of the autopsy that was done at the hospital.”
Freiwald said he doesn’t know what happened to heart, if it was sold or it put into another patient. “We don’t know. There was an autopsy done at the Greek Hospital over the objection of the American Authorities and there was apparently some disagreement over the two countries over what should happen to the body.
“When Sgt. LaLoup’s remains were received at the military base here in the United States in Dover, Delaware we know that at that time the heart was missing, so the heart was clearly removed and wasn’t sent back with the remains of the marine. There was some suggestion that it may have been harvested because I know that there have been reports in the media about black market for organs. We don’t know and that’s part of so distressing to the family of not having a clear answer to these important questions.”
The family said it’s keeping all its options open about whether they will also sue the Greek government. Freiwald said that “that is something we are looking at. We didn’t name the Greek government in the complaint that was filled last Friday (Dec. 6,) that is something we are looking in this week.”
He did not go into details about how much the family would ask for damages.