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Master Sgt. Eduardo Francis salutes, and the honor guard presents arms as taps is played Friday for Pfc. Valerie Gamboa at Patrick Henry Village chapel in Heidelberg, Germany.

Master Sgt. Eduardo Francis salutes, and the honor guard presents arms as taps is played Friday for Pfc. Valerie Gamboa at Patrick Henry Village chapel in Heidelberg, Germany. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

Master Sgt. Eduardo Francis salutes, and the honor guard presents arms as taps is played Friday for Pfc. Valerie Gamboa at Patrick Henry Village chapel in Heidelberg, Germany.

Master Sgt. Eduardo Francis salutes, and the honor guard presents arms as taps is played Friday for Pfc. Valerie Gamboa at Patrick Henry Village chapel in Heidelberg, Germany. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

A soldier gives a final salute to Pfc. Valerie Gamboa following the memorial ceremony Friday for the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Personnel Command soldier at Patrick Henry Village chapel in Heidelberg, Germany.

A soldier gives a final salute to Pfc. Valerie Gamboa following the memorial ceremony Friday for the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Personnel Command soldier at Patrick Henry Village chapel in Heidelberg, Germany. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

She was her mother’s fourth-born but the first to graduate from high school. She was athletic, very sociable and possessed the drive and imagination needed to take her all the way from the west side of San Antonio to the boulevards of Paris.

Valerie Gamboa’s mother worried when her lively, headstrong daughter decided to become the first in the family to join the U.S. Army. Valerie wanted to see the world.

“I was really worried she’d go to the war,” Carol Posada said Thursday by telephone from San Antonio.

Last April, straight out of the Army’s course for human resources specialists, Gamboa was sent to the Headquarters Company of the 1st Personnel Command, in Schwetzingen, Germany — and, her mother thought, to safety.

But on Sunday, two Army officers showed up at Posada’s door. They told her that her daughter, a 19-year-old private first class, full of life and laughter and recently home for the holidays, was dead.

“They just told me she was found stabbed in her barracks,” Posada said.

“I would like answers. Did my baby suffer? Did she fight? Did he just surprise her? And why did he do it?”

The Army had released little information about what happened in Gamboa’s Tompkins Barracks room early Sunday morning. Public announcements had said she was stabbed, that two others suffered knife wounds and that a suspect was in custody.

On Thursday, Pfc. Mario Antwain Lesesne was charged with one count each of murder, attempted murder and assault, U.S. Army Europe officials said in a press release issued late Friday. Lesesne is assigned to the U.S. Army Medical Activity in Heidelberg.

German police said Lesesne was 26 and had been Gamboa’s boyfriend. The German police arrested him at about 7 p.m. Sunday while walking near the barracks in Schwetzingen after police were tipped he was there, Heidelberg police spokesman Harald Kurzer said.

It was the same man, her mother said, who had wooed her daughter with roses and nice meals. Later, though, Posada said, he had tried to control her.

“She told me she wanted to go out with her friends, and he wouldn’t let her,” Posada said. “She said, ‘I just want to travel, that’s my dream.’”

“I said, ‘Good, mamacita. That’s what you went over there for.’ I said, ‘Put your foot down. Don’t let him tell you what to do.’”

Lesesne was being held at the Mannheim detention center.

A woman seriously injured in the attack, according to German police, was Gamboa’s roommate. She and an unidentified man, who was slightly wounded had risked “their own lives to come to the aid of another,” according to a chaplain at a military memorial service on Friday.

More than 200 people gathered at the Patrick Henry Village chapel in Heidelberg to mourn and remember Gamboa, who had worked in the personnel shop. “She brought a lot of life to that shop,” said 1st Sgt. John Daugherty.

Daugherty said that the company of 162 soldiers and civilians was shaken by what the company commander, speaking at the service, called an “atrocity.”

Sgt. Ingrid Ryan-Perry told the mourners that Gamboa was relentlessly curious and full of questions, which at first was funny, then annoying, then endearing to her older friends. “We had to love her because she was 19 and eager to learn,” the sergeant said.

Ryan-Perry said that if she, Sgt. Melissa Pontillo and Gamboa weren’t together, they always knew where one another was.

“The last day of our friend’s life, we thought she was in good hands,” Ryan-Perry said angrily. “And we thought she was safe.”

Gamboa went to a high school that was more than 97 percent Hispanic in a district so poor that the district, the Mexican American Legal Defense and others brought a lawsuit in 1984 before the Texas courts to reform the state system of public-school finance. The lawsuit changed how Texas public schools were financed by compelling the sharing of state property-tax revenues, said district spokesman Mario Rios.

“She may not have had a lot of money. But there was a lot of heart and a lot of desire and a lot of dreams that were chased,” he said. “Moms and dads are sending their kids off to the military, and then this happens. You trust the military – that’s what I’m trying to say.”

Posada said her daughter had been happy in Germany, impressed with the castles and the beauty and had loved the travel – to Spain, France and the Netherlands.

She’d always hated being alone, so living in the barracks, always having a group of people to be with, suited her.

“She said, ‘Mom, I like it. It’s like another family.’”

Gamboa’s body was expected to arrive in Texas on Thursday night, her mother said. She was to be buried Saturday.

author picture
Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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