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Second homicide declared at VA hospital; now 11 deaths being investigated

Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, WV. (Veterans Health/Flickr)
August 29, 2019

Investigators have declared a second homicide in a string of 11 suspicious deaths at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

According to an exclusive story by USA Today on Wednesday, federal investigators confirmed Air Force veteran George Nelson Shaw Sr. to be the second homicide victim out of the same United States Department of Veterans Affairs medical center.

Shaw’s suspicious death initially eluded scrutiny and he had been buried for several months before investigators asked his family’s permission to exhume his body last winter in an investigation of foul play.

Following a second autopsy, investigators were able to determine that Shaw had been given four insulin injections before his death. Shaw had never been prescribed insulin and had no history of diabetes.

Insulin is used by diabetics to control their blood sugar levels, though overdose or use of insulin as a non-diabetic can have deadly adverse effects.

Shaw, a 28-year veteran of the Air Force, had been described by his family as relatively healthy and active and his loved ones thought his rapid downturn in health to be suspicious. Shaw was admitted to the VA medical center on March 22, 2018. He died on April 10, 2018, at the age of 81.

The initial autopsy, requested by the family shortly after Shaw’s death, determined heart failure as the cause of his death, despite having no congestive heart failure or related conditions. It wasn’t until the second autopsy that they learned the truth.

The new determination of Shaw’s death as a homicide follows the identification of a previous victim, Army Sgt. Felix McDermott.

McDermott had similarly been given insulin injections, though he also did not have diabetes. McDermott, 82, had died on April 9, 2018; the day before Shaw.

The VA Inspector General Michael Missal issued a statement Tuesday, indicating coordination with the federal authorities to investigate the other suspicious deaths.

Sen. Joe Manchin alluded to one person of interest in the case of these suspicious deaths and that the person of interest is “no longer in any contact with veterans at the VA facility.”

Manchin’s office also issued a statement that detailed his attention to the string of deaths, beginning in July of 2018, and called for a quick investigation of the remaining suspicious deaths, “in the interest of assisting grieving family members.”

“These crimes shock the conscience and I’m still appalled they were not only committed but that our Veterans, who have sacrificed so much for our country, were the victims,” Manchin said. “As a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee I will do everything in my power to investigate these accusations and get to the bottom of what happened.”

Shaw’s family has filed a wrongful death claim against the VA. Tony O’Dell, an attorney for Shaw’s family, described the deaths as “a total betrayal,” to veterans and family members who trusted the VA.

“I also ask you to contact grieving family members and share as much information as you can with them,” Manchin said, and further requested the VA establish a hotline for answering questions from those impacted by the deaths.