The father was told by the Army that his 26-year-old son simply walked out on a balcony, lit a cigarette and dropped dead.

Now, more than three months later, Gregory D. Hunter Sr. is piecing together the truth.

His son, Sgt. Greg Hunter Jr. — the personal driver for the U.S. European Command’s chief of staff — died July 22 from a heroin overdose, according to medical examiners. That revelation has the elder Hunter on a quest to find answers that have been slow to come.

“How did we go from lighting up a cigarette to going into a bathroom and shooting up?” Hunter asked. “I just need to know what happened, good or bad.

“My gut feeling is this doesn’t feel right. I don’t know why.”

The soldier’s fiancee also wants answers.

Maria-Christina Byrd wonders why she was kicked out of their apartment the very day Greg Hunter died, and why soldiers ran roughshod through their home even as the shock of his death was still sinking in.

“It’s crazy, but I felt so violated,” she said. “They were going through our bedroom stuff. They were going through my clothes. It’s like they just rolled in with a bunch of tanks and destroyed everything we stood for.”

Until last week, about the only things Hunter knew of his son’s death was from what he had read in Stars and Stripes — that he had died from a suspected overdose — and through conversations with Byrd.

Then last week, after contacting the Europe Regional Medical Command’s patient administration office, he received a copy of his son’s medical report, which confirmed the drug- and alcohol-induced death.

Hunter said he also received a phone call from a Stuttgart-based Army criminal investigator. The investigator told him the investigation was ongoing, but that witnesses had said his son had been using hard drugs for seven to eight months, the father said.

The investigator was helpful, Hunter said, but the long-awaited update was troubling.

“He had issues evidently, and he hid them well,” Hunter said of his son.

A secret addiction?Byrd said she had never seen the soldier use illegal drugs of any kind.

“I don’t believe that he took that stuff behind my back,” she said.

They had set up a warm household, Byrd said, and she enjoyed when he came home from work each night. Her cooking, she said, had even caused Hunter to gain weight.

Byrd said the two had been out in downtown Stuttgart the night of his death.

“Just me and him,” Byrd said. “And we had a great time.”

At about 3 a.m., Sgt. Hunter and his fiancee drove home to their military-sponsored apartment in the Stuttgart suburb of Echterdingen. About 3:30 a.m., Sgt. Hunter went over to the house of a friend.

The friend, Byrd said, had been struggling with drugs, including shooting heroin. “[Greg] wanted to stay with me that night but I told him, ‘No, go ahead, go on over,’” Byrd said.

In the next few hours, Hunter apparently injected heroin. A syringe and spoon were found in the friend’s bathroom, and a needle-injection mark was later found on Hunter’s right ankle, according to his autopsy report.

An emergency doctor was called, and Hunter was transported to the Filderklinik hospital in nearby Filderstadt, where he was pronounced dead at 7:25 a.m.

A confusing morningLater that morning Byrd was awakened by voices outside her apartment window.

Hunter, who was deployed to Iraq in 2004, had recently won custody of his 9-year-old son from a previous marriage. Two weeks before his death, they had brought the boy to Stuttgart after traveling to San Antonio.

When Byrd answered her doorbell that morning, the soldiers entered the apartment looking for the boy.

“They said (Sgt. Hunter) had been hurt,” Byrd said. “They said they didn’t have any other information, and they needed to get his son.”

While the soldiers were in their apartment, Byrd had a neighbor call local hospitals, and they eventually found where Hunter had been taken. The neighbor’s husband drove her to the Filderklinik, where Byrd saw her dead fiance lying on a bed.

“I never knew what to think,” she said. “I never saw a dead body in my life. To me it was like he was still breathing.”

Soldiers were still in her apartment when she returned home. She said they had her pack the boy’s belongings. The soldiers took the boy to Panzer Casern and put him in temporary foster care.

Byrd spent the night at her father’s apartment, and said she now lives with her sister. A few days after Hunter’s death, she flew to San Antonio for the funeral.

Scarce detailsGermany-based Army investigators declined to comment on the ongoing case.

Chris Grey, a spokesman for the Army Criminal Investigation Command in Fort Belvoir, Va., asked that all future enquiries on the Hunter investigation be directed to him, and not to Germany-based personnel.

“As a matter of policy, we do not discuss ongoing investigations to protect the integrity of our information and our case,” Grey wrote in an e-mail.

“All deaths are approached with an open mind and without jumping to conclusions, and the cause of death is referred to as ‘undetermined death’ pending the results of the investigation.”

Both Hunter Sr. and Byrd said that Sgt. Hunter loved his job of driving for the EUCOM chief of staff, Marine Maj. Gen. William D. Catto.

“His boss was an awesome person,” Byrd said. “(Catto) would call him, ‘Hunter Man’ and ‘Bulldog’ (and say) ‘You should come and be a Marine.’”

Catto, through the EUCOM public affairs office, declined to be interviewed for this story. A spokeswoman for the command, Maj. Pamela Cook, responded with an e-mail that stated Sgt. Hunter was a “capable driver” in the executive driving pool.

Byrd said that Sgt. Hunter had been tested for drugs, although Army Garrison Stuttgart declined to provide drug-testing results for Hunter or for his unit, the garrison’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company.

The elder Hunter, a supervisor at a millwork company, said he hoped that by airing his grievances he might get more answers from those who know what happened to his son. He also hoped it would inspire drug-using soldiers to seek help for their habits.

“Maybe it will have an effect to someone else who is doing it,” he said. “Maybe they can relate to what Greg was going through, and it can save their life.”

Sgt. Hunter’s 24-year-old sister, Michelle Tarin, said by phone from San Antonio that she is skeptical that Byrd and others in Stuttgart did not know of her brother’s drug use.

She said she will always be proud of her brother, whom she said was a very loving father and very popular in his circle of friends back home.

“He picked his friends good,” Tarin said. “At least he did over here.”

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