Still no details on Army family found dead in Fort Stewart home

Army investigators said they have not disclosed any information about the deaths in order “to protect the integrity of the investigation."
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fort stewart deaths
Staff Sgt. Meiziaha Cooper (left in uniform and right) her husband Desmond Cooper and both of their children were found dead in their home in mid-November. The Army has not yet said how they died. Photos from Facebook.

A soldier known as the “mama” among dozens of Army cooks at Fort Stewart was found dead in her home this month, along with her husband and two young children. But two weeks after their bodies were discovered, the Army has offered few details on how they died.

Staff Sgt. Meiziaha Cooper and her husband, Desmond Cooper, were pronounced dead Nov. 15, along with their 4 and 9-year-old children, according to Fort Stewart officials. 

The Army initially described the incident as “domestic in nature” but did not explain what that meant or how the family died. The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division, Fort Stewart officials, and officials at the Pentagon have all declined to specify the family’s cause of death or any other details around the scene despite multiple requests by Task & Purpose. 

Fort Stewart officials deferred all questions to CID, who told Task & Purpose that they would not disclose any information about the family’s deaths in order “to protect the integrity of the investigation.” The Liberty County coroner also declined to offer details about the cause and manner of deaths.

Desmond was a carpentry and masonry specialist in the Army from August 2012 to April 2018 and in the Army Reserve from April 2018 to March 2020. He deployed to Afghanistan from April 2013 to November 2013 and left service with the rank of Specialist.

Cooper joined the Army in October 2012. When Cooper wasn’t working, she was a mother who adored her children, braided the hair of her fellow female soldiers, and gave impromptu advice to all of the people around her, according to several soldiers who knew her at Fort Stewart who spoke to Task & Purpose.

Staff Sgt. Keisha Morgan, a culinary specialist who worked at the base with Cooper, said their team had always felt like a family, especially with the long hours they put in as chefs. 

“Working in a dining facility, we all consider ourselves a family because literally, we’re with each other more than we are with our families working,” Morgan said. “Being a cook, we work long hours so just being able to come to work in a family environment is something that a lot of soldiers looked up to, especially with Sgt. Cooper.”

Early shifts go in around 5:15 a.m. and leave after 1 p.m. Late shifts come in around noon and get off around 7 p.m. For weekends, the cooks handle brunch and supper and stay there all day, depending on the manpower, Staff Sgt. DeAndre Brown said.

Cooper was also the default maternal influence on the soldiers around her, particularly among the several younger Black women who worked in the DFAC. They all called her “Mama Coop.”

“We have a lot of young soldiers that come in at 19-year-old and they don’t have that motherly, fatherly figure around all the time,” Morgan said. “There [were] a lot of black females as well that looked up to her.”

Brown said he and Cooper arrived at Fort Stewart at the same time and processed onto the base together. As a result, Brown said he would go to Cooper for advice and talk about things he was going through. She was like a sister to him, he said. 

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“She was a very loving and caring person,” he said. “She loves her family and she loves her kids. She loved her husband, she always spoke highly of him and spoke highly of their family.”

Morgan said that Cooper was well known among the 60 or 70 cooks across their brigade. “No matter what unit you were assigned to, those soldiers still will come to Sgt. Cooper to get that advice. She was definitely loved,” she said.

Morgan was in shock when she heard the news, remembering Cooper as someone who listened and gave advice to the soldiers around her.

“She was the type of person where you would tell her your problems. But she wouldn’t as much tell us her problems,” Morgan said. “Even though she was going through something, she didn’t want to portray her weakness.”

‘Domestic in nature’

Brown told Task & Purpose that he and a few friends went to Cooper’s house after not hearing from her for a day. He said the group banged on the doors and noted that both cars were in the driveway. Then they called military police. 

In the hours after the Cooper family’s deaths, the Army referred to the incident as “domestic in nature,” and announced the deaths were an “isolated incident” that represented “no threat” to the larger community.

“The DOD is excellent when it comes to warfighting functions but it does not have a good track record with handling domestic matters,” said Natalie Khawam, a lawyer who represents the family of Vanessa Guillen. Guillen was murdered in 2020 by a coworker at Fort Hood, Texas, now Fort Cavazos, after enduring a campaign of sexual harassment. Her case prompted reforms to how the military prosecutes sexual assault and sexual harassment.

“Unfortunately the reality is that these service members and their families go through a lot- both when their loved one is at war, and absolutely more when they return to the family unit from their deployment. That being said, domestic matters are handled differently from unit to unit, command to command, and installation to installation,” Khawam said.

The Department of Defense recorded 15,479 reports of domestic abuse in fiscal 2022. Physical abuse accounted for more than 62%.

A King’s College London study found that the prevalence rates of physical interpersonal violence among military men ranged from 5% to 32% compared to general U.S. population rates, ranging between 4% and 15%. The review also highlighted “at-risk groups” to include individuals in the Army, in lower ranks, and those who have left service.

The unique aspects of military service may contribute to elevated risks of interpersonal violence among active duty troops and veterans, according to a Department of Veterans Affairs study. Multiple deployments, family separation and reintegration, demanding workloads, and histories of head trauma, mental illness, and substance abuse can contribute to partner conflict and elevated risks of domestic violence.

Among Cooper’s friends, at least one refused to believe that the “mama” among cooks would hurt her own children.

“She would never hurt herself or harm her kids,” Brown said.

A candle vigil was held for Cooper last week, Brown said. Their unit is also planning a formal memorial service. The Army even delayed his deployment so he could attend her funeral and mourn the loss of his friend who was a “really good all-around person.”

Morgan said Sgt. Cooper was the bright light she needed to get through work some days.

“I would come to DFAC, not smiling. And she would always be like, ‘Hey, Sgt. Morgan, put a smile on your face, stop frowning,’” Morgan recalled. “She definitely gave me that burst of energy and just coming to work and seeing her smile – I was like, I should be smiling too.”

Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield have several resources available to soldiers and their families who are facing domestic violence. This includes Army Community Service’s Family Advocacy and Victim Advocacy Programs, counseling, and medical and legal services.

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