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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Family of soldier who died on Skype waits for answers

Katie Yoder of Goshen was baking cookies to send to her brother in Afghanistan last week when she learned something was terribly wrong. Now her brother, Army Capt. Bruce Clark, is nationally known because of the strange circumstances surrounding his death.
Justin Leighty
Posted on May. 9, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

GOSHEN — Katie Yoder was picking up supplies to send cookies to her brother in Afghanistan last week when a niece called her with bad news: Something was very wrong.

Now, her humble brother, Army Capt. Bruce Kevin Clark, is nationally known because of the bizarre circumstances surrounding his death, which happened while he talked with his wife on video-calling service Skype.

Susan Orellana-Clark said her husband didn’t appear distressed before he collapsed. His wife thought her husband had been shot, seeing what appeared to be a bullet hole in the closet behind him. An autopsy revealed no bullet wound, though, according to the U.S. Army.

The Skype link remained open for two hours after Clark collapsed as family and friends in the U.S. and Afghanistan tried to get Clark help. Although it was the night of Monday, April 30, at his El Paso, Texas, home, Clark’s time of death is officially listed as May 1, the date in Afghanistan at the time.

It was two hours after he collapsed, following many frantic phone calls by his wife, before military personnel arrived in the 43-year-old nurse’s room in Afghanistan, according to a statement by the family.

Yoder, the youngest of eight siblings, said it was during the two hours that she learned something was wrong with her oldest brother. After two hours “we learned that they had gotten to him, but that’s all we knew.”

When Yoder finally learned of his death the following day, she loaded up the kids and headed to Addison, Mich., to be with her mother.

She said the close-knit family is amazed by all the publicity, and her brother would’ve been amazed too. “He was just so humble. He was just doing what he loved. He would’ve never thought that there would be so much hoopla just for him,” Yoder said.

He joined up in 2006, a move that surprised his loved ones. “It was just his way to be able to serve more people than just staying in one location,” Yoder said. “It was kind of a surprise to all of us, but he had decided to do it and he put his mind to it and got to where he needed to be to do it,” she said.

She’d spoken with him in March before he shipped out to Afghanistan. “I wanted to make sure that he knew that I loved him,” she said.

“He was just a very down-to-earth person. He always had something going on. It was either something with his family, or with his girls, or with friends. He was just always there. Even when he was over there, he would talk to people on Facebook, that was a big way for him to communicate. There was a couple of times I was able to get on and just talk about everyday stuff. He just tried to make sure everybody else was taken care of.”

Now his wife and his two daughters — ages 3 and 9 — and his extended family are waiting for the Army’s investigation to finish so they can plan a funeral and memorial services, Yoder said.

There will be a Texas memorial service, a service in Addison and the funeral will be in Spencerport, N.Y., his wife’s hometown, where his wife and daughters will move, Yoder said.

“People are wanting to rally around us, but we just don’t know what the best way is,” Yoder said. “We just don’t know when to plan anything. The hardest part is just the waiting.”

Her mom’s Army liaison has been very helpful in the process, Yoder said, and she’s pleased with the Army’s response for her family. Still, one thing nags at her, she said.

“My major question is why it would take two hours, two hours of her sitting and waiting and praying. In my heart I would hope that there had to have been an easier way to go about this. It doesn’t matter to me what happened, I just have the question on whether he could’ve been saved. Two hours is a big window, you know?”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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