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The U.S. soldier who died of hypothermia earlier this month in Bolzano, Italy, had been absent from his unit in Fort Lewis, Wash., for more than four months, according to Army officials.

Pvt. Matthew K. Jernigan, 22, was assigned to Company B, 402nd Brigade Support Battalion, 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, according to Joseph Piek of the Fort Lewis public affairs office.

Jernigan had reportedly been living in Italy since October.

He was declared absent without leave from his unit on Oct. 7.

Servicemembers are only officially considered deserters if it’s determined that they are not going to return to their units or report back for duty.

The Pentagon announced Feb. 17 that the 5th Stryker Brigade will deploy this spring to Afghanistan.

Jernigan married a local Italian woman on Dec. 13, according a report by Alto Adige, an Italian newspaper.

They reportedly met in 2007 while they were both in London.

The couple reportedly had an argument on the night of Feb. 14. Jernigan left the house and did not return.

He was found dead the next morning by a local resident along the banks of a river that runs through the city.

One of his shoes was found in the river and two empty bottles of liquor were found next to his body, according to media reports.

Police surmised that he fell in the water and managed to climb out.

But he didn’t leave the bank and temperatures overnight in the city hovered between 14 and 17 degrees Fahrenheit.

When reached through an intermediary, Jernigan’s wife said she did not want to comment.

A local autopsy listed the cause of death as hypothermia.

A report by another Italian agency, Virgilio Notizie, said there were no signs of trauma.

Members of the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command based in Vicenza — about 60 miles south — are investigating the death along with Italian military authorities.

A Bolzano official who declined to be identified said that Jernigan had proper paperwork to live in Italy.

Jernigan joined the military last March, according to Piek. He underwent training in Fort Jackson, S.C., and Fort Lee, Va., before moving to Fort Lewis on Sept. 5.

His unit listed him as AWOL just more than a month later.

His home of record was Columbia, S.C.

Stars and Stripes reporter Sandra Jontz contributed to this report.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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