Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., announced Wednesday afternoon that the remains of a military veteran who killed the wife of a Fort Wayne native have been removed from a national cemetery in Michigan.
Congress last year passed legislation authored by Coats that allows the Department of Veterans Affairs to disinter from national cemeteries the remains of veterans who committed capital crimes.
The Alicia Dawn Koehl Respect for National Cemeteries Act is named for the woman who was killed in a May 30, 2012, shooting spree at an Indianapolis apartment complex where she worked. Army veteran Michael LaShawn Anderson, who wounded three other people, later took his own life.
Koehl, 45, the mother of two, was married to Paul Koehl, a graduate of Snider High School. His parents, Frank and Carol Koehl, live in Fort Wayne.
“It won’t ever really be closure, but it does give us a sense of a little bit of peace,” Carol Koehl said in a telephone interview about the removal of Anderson’s remains.
Roy Luera, director of Fort Custer National Cemetery in Augusta, Mich., said in a telephone interview that Anderson’s remains were exhumed by cemetery staff and the employees of a private funeral home about 11 a.m. Wednesday. Luera said information on where Anderson’s remains were taken is not being released.
“On this day of closure, my thoughts are with the Koehl family and the lasting legacy Alicia leaves behind,” Coats said in a statement. “While I am pleased this unacceptable mistake has been corrected, today’s events cannot bring back a wonderful wife and mother. With their hard work and determination, the Koehl family has honored Alicia through the passage of a law that bears her name and protects the integrity of our national cemeteries.”
VA officials had rejected the family’s request to have Anderson’s remains disinterred, saying it lacked the statutory authority to correct its mistake. Federal law prohibits the burial in national cemeteries of veterans who have committed federal or state capital crimes, including murder, treason and rape with additional bodily harm.
Since Anderson was buried at Fort Custer National Cemetery with military honors at taxpayer expense, the Koehl family, Coats and Rep. Susan Brooks, R-5th, have been working to have the error corrected, resulting in the legislation that was signed into law Dec. 20 by President Barack Obama.
“It was a hard road to go, but we felt we needed to do it for our son and the grandchildren,” Carol Koehl said Wednesday. “We didn’t know how it was going to turn out, but we hoped for the best and actually prayed for the best. This is another step in the healing process for Paul and the kids.”