CHINATOWN — Local advocates and elected officials pressed the U.S. military to be more forthcoming with information regarding the death of a Chinatown teen killed under mysterious circumstances while serving in Afghanistan earlier this month.
They demanded a meeting with the Army's chief secretary to help shed light on the incident as the investigation continues.
Pvt. Danny Chen, 19, who grew up in Chinatown and attended high school on the Lower East Side, was found with a gunshot wound to the head inside a guard tower on October 3 while stationed in Kandahar Province.
The cause of death has yet to be determined, according to a military spokesman, but many have questioned the chain of events that led to the tragedy.
“Our community needs guarantees from the army before their sons and daughters enlist that they will be respected and protected by their peers and superiors, especially in the living quarters of any army base where they should have an expectation that they are safe among comrades,” Elizabeth OuYang, president of the Organization of Chinese Americans’ New York office, wrote in an Oct. 17 letter to Army Secretary John McHugh.
“We want to know the truth of what happened to Danny Chen,” OuYang added on Monday during a press conference at the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association.
“Anyone found culpable of the death of Danny Chen needs to be held accountable.”
Chen’s family said the military informed them that he had been beaten by superior officers and subjected to racially motivated taunts prior to his death, local leaders recounted. The family was not present at the press conference, as organizers said they were still grieving over their son's death.
OuYang, who attended Chen's funeral service last week, said her organization offered to cover the cost of an independent autopsy prior to his burial upstate.
One of Chen’s friends from middle school said Monday that Chen avoided conflict and didn't respond to bullying.
“I know he didn’t fight back,” said Jing Mei Huang, regarding reports that Chen’s superior officers beat him, possibly for failing to turn off the water at his base, according to family. “Danny was a shy guy. If they did that stuff, he wouldn’t fight back. He was very obedient.”
Huang added: “Even if he was bullied, he wouldn’t tell anyone.”
Friends said previously that Chen had told them he was the only Asian solider assigned to the base. His friends and family never mentioned any complaints from him about mistreatment, they explained.
Rep. Nydia Velazquez said Monday that she also wrote to the Department of Defense seeking “immediate action” regarding the investigation.
“Danny was not supposed to die this way,” Velazquez said at the press conference, calling for a comprehensive investigation. “We owe that to the soldiers who put their lives at risk.”
She added in her letter that any racially motivated abuse or mistreatment should to be punished.
A spokesman for the military’s Criminal Investigation Command did not offer any new information Monday regarding Chen’s death.
“I can tell you our investigation continues and we are fully committed to conducting a thorough investigation and getting to the truth wherever that may lead,” said spokesman Chris Grey.