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19 months after their Navy son’s death, NY family continues to fight for answers

Port Hueneme Naval Base (Mikeiamunion21/WikiCommons)

James and Teresa Bradley remember the evening they saw a Navy chaplain and a casualty case officer walk up to the door of their Willowbrook home.

“I knew when I saw those two uniforms — that only means one thing,” said James Bradley, who retired from the NYPD. “It was shocking.”

Their son, Jim Bradley, 22, was found dead inside his locked room at the Port Hueneme Naval Base barracks in Ventura County, Calif., on Oct. 30, 2019, in a suspected suicide.

Nearly two years since that day, the 22-year-old’s family has been left with a bevy of questions surrounding his death. They are still fighting for answers.

Jim Bradley was raised in Brooklyn and the youngest of five. He had four older sisters he was close with. “It’s everything you would want as a mother,” Teresa Bradley recalled fondly, “to see your kids get along.”

He would go on to run track at Xavier High School in Manhattan before deciding to go to college. But his parents said he was left unfulfilled there, and after two years he decided he wanted to join the Navy.

His sisters tried to convince him against the venture, but he was resolute. “No matter what we did, we couldn’t talk him out of it,” his mother said.

Jim Bradley enlisted and went through bootcamp and later went to the Mississippi Gulfport United States Naval Construction Battalion — better known as the Navy Seabee — training center, before he was sent to California and then deployed to Okinawa, Japan.

Throughout his time, his family FaceTimed him. He always seemed his usual, sarcastic self. “He’s definitely a smarta—,” his mother joked.

His father said the family was planning on going out to California in October of 2019 after his son returned from Okinawa, but Jim Bradley assured his dad that he would be home in six weeks for Christmas. The 22-year-old planned to take a few weeks leave and spend time with friends and family.

He never made it home.

There were “no signs, no indications, no regrets about joining the Navy,” said the father. “I just can’t believe it happened to this kid — to my son.”

It has now been 19 months since Jim Bradley was found dead.

A lawsuit filed in Brooklyn federal court alleges that the Bradley family has not received official communication concerning the cause of death or the result of Navy investigations probing the circumstances.

Maryam Hadden, the family’s attorney, said the Navy’s “cloak and dagger” approach to the death “has made the hardship of losing a son so much worse and only raises more questions each day that it drags on.”

“It is a true shame that in the midst of the greatest sorrow that a family can suffer, they have been forced to turn to the legal system for help,” said Hadden in a written statement. “I hope that I can help to bring some small measure of peace to this family.”

Teresa Bradley said it took 10 days to receive her son’s body from California. She said an autopsy was the cause of the hold up.

Well after their son was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, where he received a full military funeral, his parents said they discovered that only a visual autopsy was completed.

The parents had to call the Ventura County Medical Examiner themselves to learn that their son allegedly hanged himself, they said, and the New York Post, which first reported Bradley’s case, said his body was moved before medical examiner staff arrived.

“In the ensuing months, the Bradleys received no official contacts from Navy investigative personnel and were consistently stymied in their efforts to obtain any update or, indeed, any information at all, regarding the death of their son,” the lawsuit alleges.

The family filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to retrieve relevant records to his death but were denied. In April, the Navy said its Naval Criminal Investigative Service analysis of the death — a probe routinely completed for non-combat deaths — was still ongoing.

The family is yet to have seen an official investigative report completed by the Navy, they said.

More than a year after their son’s death, “the Bradleys are still meeting a wall of silence,” the lawsuit alleges.

“The Navy does not comment on ongoing litigation,” said an official for the branch.

Now, amid a legal battle and the prolonged passage of time since Jim Bradley’s death, his family laments their inability to find closure as they continue to wrestle with the unknown.

“I would have never thought that 19 months later, we still don’t have an answer,” said his mother.

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