View Full Version : Marine training death under investigation, no foul play suspected

11-02-06, 08:05 AM
Marine training death under investigation, no foul play suspected

By: JOE BECK - Staff Writer

CAMP PENDLETON ---- Marine investigators are trying to determine why a 22-year-old corporal on a range not normally used for live-ammunition exercises died of a gunshot wound during training, a Marine spokesman at Camp Pendleton said Wednesday.

Lt. Esteban Vickers said that no foul play is suspected in the death of Cpl. Seth M. Algrim, 22, of Garden City, Kan.

Bruce Algrim, Seth Algrim's father, said Wednesday that Camp Pendleton officials had told him that his son was shot in the head by someone in his unit.

"They said he should not have been firing live ammo and somehow he had live ammo," Algrim said in a telephone interview with the North County Times from his home in Garden City.

Algrim said Marine representatives told him they assumed the shooting was an accident.

"But they don't know," the father said. "It was a training exercise."

Vickers refused to comment on details of the shooting.

"We really can't comment on that because it's part of the ongoing investigation," the lieutenant said.

Seth Algrim was a mortar man assigned to 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, according to a written statement issued by Camp Pendleton officials Tuesday. He joined the Marines in August 2003 and won combat decorations during one deployment in Afghanistan and another in Iraq, the Marine officials said in their written statement.

Vickers said Algrim was with about 50 to 100 other Marines at the time he was shot in an area of small, mock cinder block buildings used to simulate urban combat conditions.

Urban combat training exercises like the one in which Algrim died are a standard part of Marine training and not limited to Marines being deployed to Iraq, Vickers said. The training's purposes include helping Marines learn how to distinguish between civilians and hostile forces while searching buildings under tense, chaotic conditions, Vickers said.

"Urban warfare is usually the most difficult kind of warfare because there are so many unknowns," Vickers said.

Seth Algrim was shot on the base around 10 p.m. Monday.

Bruce Algrim said he remembered his son as "tremendous young man."

"He had a good heart. Sometimes I think he looked out for other people more than himself, Algrim said."

Algrim said his son had been home for a few days earlier this month and returned to Camp Pendleton about two weeks ago. He recently decided to re-enlist for an additional four years, Algrim said.

"I think he liked all the good things you hear about the Marines ---- the camaraderie, the way they look after each other and all the honor and prestige you have as soon as you're a Marine," Bruce Algrim said.

In separate interviews conducted Wednesday by the North County Times through e-mail and by telephone, Vickers said Algrim died from a single gunshot wound. Who fired the fatal shot and the kind of gun used remain under investigation, he said.

Vickers said Algrim's death is being investigated by a senior field officer of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Division and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the Navy's law enforcement division.

Exercises involving live ammunition include precautions designed to prevent accidental injuries and deaths, Vickers said. He said safety procedures such as ammunition checks before and after exercises, were a regular part of such exercises. Live-fire ranges also include safety officers who oversee and supervise activities during training, Vickers said.

Vickers cited several reasons why Marines prefer using live ammunition instead of blanks during training exercises.

"A weapon with live ammunition has a different feel" from one carrying blanks, Vickers said.

Using real bullets also makes it easier to see when a target has been hit and also helps Marines recognize the sound that guns make when firing live ammunition, he said.

Vickers said deaths during such training exercises are "very, very rare," he said.

His son's shooting came as an unexpected tragedy to Bruce Algrim.

"In Iraq, he had a lot of buddies who were killed, and he made it through that OK. That's what makes all this seem surreal," he said.

-- Contact staff writer Joe Beck at (760) 740-3516 or jbeck@nctimes.com.