Greek officials offer clue on dead Marine's missing heart
COATESVILLE, Pa. — The missing heart of a dead Marine sergeant from Chester County was removed during an autopsy last year for toxicology testing, Greek consular officials said Wednesday.
But that explanation - offered without comment on where the organ is now - only begins to answer the questions raised by the Marine's parents in their lawsuit, filed last week in federal court in Philadelphia.
On Wednesday, Craig and Beverly LaLoup of Coatesville, parents of Sgt. Brian LaLoup, added the Greek government and the Athens hospital that conducted the autopsy to the list of defendants in their suit, which previously included the U.S. Department of Defense and the Navy.
Brian LaLoup, 21, had been stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Athens. It was there, after a night of drinking, that he fatally shot himself in the head on Aug. 12, 2012. His parents allege that Greek medical examiners removed his heart in an illegal procedure.
U.S. military officials failed to notify the parents about the missing organ until after they had buried their son, the LaLoups claim.
The hospital and the U.S. Defense Department later claimed to have located Brian LaLoup's heart and sent it back to the United States. But testing later revealed that organ did not match the Marine's DNA.
"Brian is dead, he's gone, and that's something that rips at the heart of a parent," said Aaron Freiwald, the family's attorney. "They want a full accounting of what happened to their son."
Christos Failadis, the spokesman for the Greek Embassy in Washington who told of the toxicology tests, declined to answer further questions Wednesday, including whether hospital officials still have LaLoup's heart. Failadis said earlier in the week that he thought the matter had been resolved.
The Defense Department and the Marine Corps declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.
"We extend our sincere condolences to the LaLoup family," said Nicole Thompson, a State Department spokeswoman. "The U.S. Embassy in Greece remains in close dialogue with the Greek government on this issue."
Remains of most U.S. service members who die overseas are sent to the United States for autopsy, said Paul Stone, a spokesman for the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System. However, some countries -- including Greece -- maintain the right in formal agreements with the U.S. military to investigate such deaths using their own medical staff.
Still, the LaLoup family maintains that the Greek examiners conducted their son's autopsy over objections from the U.S. government.
And while it is not unusual for an organ or tissue to be removed during an autopsy, examiners would normally return them to the remains before sending the body for embalming, Stone said.
"We might remove an organ for testing when there's not an obvious sign or cause of death," he said. "But if something like that happens, we absolutely notify the family."