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Originally published February 17, 2009 at 9:40 AM | Page modified February 17, 2009 at 5:09 PM

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16-year-old who died at Fort Lewis was sophomore at Lakes High School

The 16-year-old girl who died in a Fort Lewis barracks on Sunday was a sophomore at Lakes High School in Lakewood, according to a spokeswoman for the Clover Park School District.

Seattle Times staff reporters

The 16-year-old girl who died in a Fort Lewis barracks on Sunday was a sophomore at Lakes High School in Lakewood, according to a spokeswoman for the Clover Park School District.

Kim Prentice declined to name the girl at the request of her family.

She said the girl attended Lakes High for 9th grade last year, but then withdrew this fall and took a few online classes. However, the girl reenrolled at Lakes earlier this month for the new semester and had been attending regular classes.

Prentice declined to discuss the girl in detail, nor would she characterize the reaction to her death at the high school. She said the school has brought a "grief response team" of counselors to the school for any student or staff member who needs them.

At Lakes High, nestled in a residential neighborhood about a mile from the base, students Joey Fitzpatrick and twin brothers Isiah and Joseph Alvarado described a subdued mood on campus.

"She was generally nice to people," said Fitzpatrick. "I don't know. Maybe she had other problems in her life."

The dead girl was one of two 16-year-old teens found "unresponsive" at around 3:30 a.m. Sunday in a barracks, a Fort Lewis spokesman said Monday. She could not be revived and was pronounced dead at the scene; the second remains hospitalized.

It's not uncommon for teenage girls to approach young soldiers and be brought onto Fort Lewis where one teenage girl died over the weekend and another was hospitalized, according to a store owner near the base.

The manager of a dry-cleaning store a short distance north of the fort said she's seen teenage girls go car-to-car asking for a ride onto the base.

"It's easy for them to get on the post. It happens all the time. They want to get on base and see the young GIs," said Maria Dibbens, manager of Plaza Cleaners.

Dibbens said anyone with a Washington identification is allowed on the post if they are sponsored by someone in the military. She said she often sees teenage girls approaching uniformed military men in the parking lots of a convenience store and a service station across the street from her shop.

"It happens more in the summer," Dibbens said. "Sometime you see them get into the trunk of a car."

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When asked Monday if it was a common occurrence for underage girls to gain access to the base, Fort Lewis spokesman John Norgren said he wasn't aware that it was, but that the investigation will be a chance to determine what corrective measures may be needed to ensure that it doesn't happen in the future.

"A review of installation policies and procedures is already under way," according to a news release issued by Fort Lewis.

The cause of the dead girl's death is pending the results of an autopsy.

The girls are both civilian residents of the South Puget Sound area and not affiliated with the military, Norgren said.

He said a soldier had been questioned in connection with the incident, but as of Monday had not been arrested. Norgren said the incident is being treated "very seriously" by Fort Lewis' top brass, who are still trying to figure out all the facts.

Under normal conditions, Norgren said, people with business on the installation or visiting friends can get in with a pass or be sponsored to get in.

Norgren said Fort Lewis emergency-response personnel responded to a 911 call. One girl was declared dead at the barracks by a doctor from Madigan Army Medical Center; the other was rushed to the on-post hospital. She was in stable condition Monday night.

The dead girl showed no signs of physical trauma or any other obvious indications of what may have caused her death, Norgren said. Because of that, he said, the Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner is expected to do the autopsy.

He said questions of how the girls entered the secure post — and what they were doing there — are part of the ongoing investigation.

Fort Lewis is home to some 30,000 military personnel. It is a closed post, meaning that civilians who want to enter need to show identification at a checkpoint and need a valid reason for being there.

Accommodations on the post are a mix of older, open-bay barracks that house many soldiers and more-modern apartment-style barracks. The modern barracks typically have two or more private bedrooms and shared kitchens and common areas.

Fort Lewis was not prepared Monday to identify the type of barracks where the girls were found, Norgren said.

Fort Lewis announced the girl's death in a news release issued Monday afternoon, about 36 hours after the girls were found. Norgren said the delay was due to the Presidents Day holiday and the need to notify the dead girl's next of kin. He declined to release her name.

Norgren said the investigation is being spearheaded by the Army's Criminal Investigation Division, and that information is being shared with the Pierce County Sheriff's Department.

But in an e-mail to The Seattle Times on Monday night, Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer wrote, "We are not involved at all."

The Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office said it wasn't notified of the girl's death because the Army has jurisdiction over deaths at Fort Lewis.

Norgren said he didn't know when more details would be made public.

In the past year, several Fort Lewis soldiers have faced criminal prosecution in connection with incidents that occurred off-post.

On Feb. 7, three Fort Lewis soldiers were charged in attacks and robberies of University of Washington students at gunpoint. Pvt. Robert E. Lucas Jr., 20, of Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Pfc. Chad A. Braden, 19, of Etna, Ohio, each were charged with two counts of first-degree robbery. Pfc. Raymond Burrows III, 21, of Central Falls, R.I., faces one count of first-degree robbery.

Luke Sommer, a former Army Ranger accused of masterminding the takeover robbery of a Tacoma bank in August 2006, was sentenced in December to 24 years in prison. Two other Rangers, Chad Palmer and Alex Blum, pleaded guilty to taking part in the robbery.

Last year, Army Spc. Ivette Gonzalez Davila was charged in the March 1 slayings of fellow soldiers Staff Sgt. Timothy Miller, 27, and Sgt. Randi Miller, 25. All were assigned to Fort Lewis.

Davila is being prosecuted by the Army.

Information from Seattle Times archives and staff reporter Mark Rahner is included in this report.

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or nperry@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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