Parris Island recruit's 2016 death inspires TV series about Marine Corps hazing culture

By LANA FERGUSON | The Island Packet | Published: February 9, 2021

Editor's note: This article discusses suicide. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free 24/7 confidential support at 1-800-273-8255.

The story about the death of Parris Island recruit Raheel Siddiqui, which sparked investigations into the treatment of Muslims and culture of hazing at the U.S. Marine Corps training base, is inspiring a TV show.

Production company 101 Studios acquired the 2017 New York Times Magazine article about Siddiqui's death and is using it "as source material for a scripted limited series," entertainment news website Deadline Hollywood reported.

"Raheel's death was tragic and his family's loss is immeasurable, but his death has revealed he is not the only victim," 101 Studios CEO David Glasser told Deadline. "We intend to further explore the brutal hazing and torture that has riddled Parris Island for decades and tell the stories of the other victims who have silently suffered."

The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette extensively covered Siddiqui's March 2016 death and the investigations, trial and federal lawsuit that stemmed from it.

Pvt. Siddiqui was a 20-year-old American Muslim of Pakistani descent from Taylor, Mich., described by people close to him as having a bright mind and big heart.

Assigned to the 3rd Battalion's Company K, he died during his second week at the depot five days after telling officials he had suicidal thoughts and planned to jump to his death.

Also leading up to his death, a Corps investigation found Siddiqui faced hazing, including from a drill instructor who had previously ordered a different Muslim recruit into a commercial clothes dryer and interrogated him about his loyalties and faith. That instructor called Siddiqui a "terrorist."

On the morning of March 18, 2016, investigation documents say Siddiqui tried to get permission to go to medical for a sore throat, but the drill instructor determined he wasn't properly requesting permission so ordered him to perform a series of "get-backs." While running the punitive sprints across the length of the squad bay, Siddiqui collapsed to the floor and became unresponsive.

The instructor tried to rouse him by slapping him hard in the face multiple times, but when Siddiqui rose from the floor, he ran out the back door of the barracks and reportedly jumped from the third floor, landing in a stairwell below. He died from his injuries hours later at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

Both the Marine Corps and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service conducted investigations into the recruit's death.

In the wake of Siddiqui's death, two high-ranking officers and a sergeant major were relieved of command.

Almost half a year later, the Corps deemed Siddiqui's death a suicide, saying he jumped to his death, and that 20 Recruit Training Regiment personnel were "identified for possible military justice or administrative action." It also announced three command investigations at Parris Island have revealed troubling behaviors and lapses there.

Siddiqui's drill instructor, then-Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix, was convicted of hazing and abusing Siddiqui and other Muslim recruits at a court-martial in November 2017. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge from the Corps.

His commanding officer, Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon, later pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty, among other charges, at a court-martial for, among other things, failing to prevent Felix — who was already under investigation for abuse — from supervising Siddiqui's platoon.

While the criminal investigations were taking place, Siddiqui's family to disputed that his death was a suicide and has repeatedly asked officials, including then-Beaufort County Coroner Ed Allen, to change the cause of death to "pending" or "undetermined."

At one point, the family shared with The Detroit Free Press inconsistencies that they had found in their son's medical documentation after his fall, including typos and missing-but-later-found records.

In October 2017, Siddiqui's parents filed a $100 million federal lawsuit alleging negligence led to their son's death, saying he was "assaulted, hazed and discriminated against because of his Muslim faith." It also said the government was negligent in declaring the death a suicide shortly after the fall, before a full investigation was conducted.

A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit more than a year after it was filed, barring the case based on a long-standing, controversial legal precedent — called the Feres doctrine. That doctrine stems from a 1950 ruling that protects the government from being sued by active-duty military personnel injured "incident to service."

In early 2021, the family appealed the case, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the dismissal. The court declined to hear the case.

© 2021 The Island Packet (Hilton Head, S.C.)
Visit The Island Packet (Hilton Head, S.C.) at www.islandpacket.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.