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Drowning of Marine Recruit May Lead to Charges

Jason Tharp's parents, Linda and Johnny Tharp, hold a photo of their son.
Eric Niiler, NPR /
Jason Tharp's parents, Linda and Johnny Tharp, hold a photo of their son.

Marine officials said this week that instructors at Parris Island, S.C., could have prevented the drowning death of a young recruit last February.

The five-month investigation found instructors ignored or missed signs of trouble and allowed him to drown. Several may face criminal charges.

In Sutton, W.V., where 19-year old Jason Tharp lived with his parents and three siblings, his family still questions what happened to their son.

Jason loved to fish, but didn't know how to swim. He was quiet, an aspiring artist. After graduating from Braxton County High School, Jason worked at the Wendy's out at the interstate alongside his dad.

But when a pair of Marine recruiters stopped by Wendy's last fall, Jason was intrigued by their offer of scholarship money. He wrote seven letters home during his first four weeks of basic training. The final one reads, in part:

"I still don't think I belong here, I think I should come home... So if you can get me out, I will be forever grateful. Right now I don't care about the money... So if you can find it in yourself to get me out of here, I will be grateful. Love Jason."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eric Niiler
Eric Niiler reports for NPR's national desk. His work can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and other NPR newsmagazines. Before moving to his current post, Niiler was a reporter for NPR's Day to Day program, and also filed pieces for NPR's national and science desks.