SAN DIEGO — Confronted with charges of a cover-up, Navy officials have confirmed that a sailor about to be discharged because he was homosexual was beaten to death more than two months ago by a shipmate.
Navy officials in Japan said that Seaman Allen R. Schindler, 22, may have been a victim of gay-bashing, allegedly killed by a fellow sailor assigned to the Belleau Wood, an amphibious assault ship with a home port in Japan.
Lt. Kenneth Ross, Navy spokesman in Hawaii, refused to discuss what provoked the killing except to say that gay-bashing "is also being looked at as a possible motive." For now, Navy prosecutors are viewing the case as a murder, he said.
At the time of his death, Schindler, a radioman, was being processed for an administrative discharge because he was an acknowledged homosexual, Ross said. Family members said that Schindler, a four-year Navy veteran and native of Chicago Heights, Ill., joined the Navy despite its no-homosexuals policy because of a desire to serve his country.
Coming as President-elect Bill Clinton is planning to lift the ban on gays in the military, the case is stirring strong feelings. Gay rights advocates are urging Clinton to take swift action to legitimize the presence of homosexuals in the military, and have accused the Navy of trying to cover up circumstances of the killing. The killing occurred in October, and the Navy waited until gay rights groups demonstrated in front of the Pentagon in December before announcing a few details of the crime.
Schindler was beaten to death in a public restroom three blocks from the Navy base at Sasebo, Japan, on Oct. 27, at 11:19 p.m., Ross said. Officials have released few details of the incident, refusing even to reveal the cause of death or whether a weapon was used.
However, Schindler's mother, Dorothy Hajdys, said in an interview that her son was beaten beyond recognition. Hajdys and her daughter, Kathy Eickoff, said they were able to identify him only through tattoos on his forearms.
Hajdys said all but two of Schindler's ribs were broken, and both lungs and his brain had hemorrhaged. She also said that Schindler's penis was lacerated in the attack. The autopsy report listed the cause of death as "multiple blunt force injuries from head to trunk," Hajdys said.
Tanya Domi, spokeswoman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington, said her group has asked the attorney general-designate and secretary of defense-designate of the incoming Clinton Administration to investigate the killing.
In addition, James Jennings, who was Schindler's lover in San Diego, where the ship was based until August, has written to Clinton, protesting his friend's death and urging Clinton to proceed with plans to lift the Pentagon's ban on homosexuals in the military.
"It is absolutely senseless for someone to die because of who he is. . . . (Schindler) didn't choose to be gay, but he did choose to serve the country he loved. I know what must be done and only you can do it; lift the ban," wrote Jennings, who served four years in the Navy.
Jennings said that Schindler called him regularly and complained about being harassed on the ship because he was homosexual.
"He would walk down the corridors and other guys would yell stuff like: 'We gotta do something about these faggots on the ship,' " Jennings said.
Hajdys said her son referred to the ship as the "Helleau Wood" in his letters.
Rick Gonzalez, a former Navy lieutenant who served 4 1/2 years, said Schindler also complained that he was constantly questioned about his homosexuality by other sailors on the Belleau Wood. Gonzalez, a San Diego resident who said he is gay, said he knew Schindler for almost two years and spoke with him by telephone two days before he died.
Ross said that Schindler never reported any harassment to Capt. Douglas Bradt, the Belleau Wood's skipper, or the ship's chaplain. But another gay sailor who expressed concern for his safety was removed from the Belleau Wood on Oct. 28--the day after Schindler died--because of "the uncertainties of Schindler's death," Ross said. At the time, the captain felt that "it was prudent to transfer him ashore," Ross said.
Hajdys, 46, an accountant for the Salvation Army in Chicago Heights, said she fears for all gays in the military if Clinton succeeds in lifting the ban on homosexuals.
"After what happened to my son, the biggest thing I fear is if Clinton clears the way for homosexuals to join the service. I fear for their lives," Hajdys said. "I don't know if my son was really a homosexual. But even if he was, is that justification for someone to kill him?"
Terry M. Helvey, 20, an airman aboard the Belleau Wood, has been charged in the death of Schindler. He is awaiting the start of the military's version of a preliminary hearing.