|From The Union Bulletin union-bulletin.com
Death remains mystery
Police indicate the gunshot wound was self-inflicted, but Biltat's parents aren't convinced that's the whole story.
By ALFRED DIAZ of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
WALLA WALLA — “I don’t know. I don’t have the whole story. They don’t have the whole of it. And I don’t know.”
Fernando Villagomez has had to repeat those words too many times to family, friends and to himself since the death of his son, U.S. Army Specialist Michael Scott Biltat.
The 22-year-old soldier, who was stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky., died off base on Jan. 26 at his Oak Grove, Ky., apartment.
Fort Campbell Public Affairs Officer Cathy Gramling explained that as far as military investigations are concerned, nothing is released until all findings are final.
“Typically, the Army doesn’t release anything until the investigation is complete. While civilian investigators will give you a hint, the Army doesn’t do that,” Gramling said in a phone interview on Friday.
The Oak Grove Police Department is also investigating. Unlike the military, it is allowed to give preliminary information. For Villagomez, that information is hard to believe and leaves him with even more unanswered questions.
“My son was having a party in his apartment,” Villagomez said, adding that he wasn’t certain if alcohol was involved, but feels strongly that it was.
“There was a discussion with a cousin — she was living with him — and a third person. And that person and my son, they had some differences in opinion and they said he went to the kitchen and that is when it happened,” Villagomez said.
A self-inflicted gunshot wound is what detectives reported to Villagomez.
“It is really hard to believe. They told me that it happened in his apartment. He was back from Iraq, he went there two times,” Villagomez said.
Biltat was the adopted son of Villagomez. A Pacific Islander, he was born on the Marshall Islands; his birth certificate listed no father. And at age 5 he was sent to live with Fernando and Donna Villagomez of Walla Walla, who adopted and raised him.
The boy attended local schools, including Pioneer Middle School and Walla Walla High School, and played football and baseball his freshman and sophomore years.
“I went to every game. I would talk to him about them. He also played baseball. I think he was between second base and third base,” Villagomez said.
He added that many people who live near Eagan Avenue might remember the 8-year-old boy who always had a good attitude when he delivered newspapers.
“That was Michael. People remembered that little boy because he was always singing when he was delivering the paper ... He never complained, especially on Sunday when he had all the weight of those big papers, and he was delivering them and whistling and not complaining,” Villagomez said.
During his junior and senior years, Biltat moved to Orange County, Calif., to renew his relationship with his biological mother.
“He asked me, ‘Dad. Would it be OK if I went to California for about a year and a half?” The father let him go.
While in California, the young man’s education lacked. And when he returned two years later in 2004 it was without a high school diploma.
“I think that maybe he felt some guilt for not finishing. And he knows I am really big on education,” Villagomez said, pointing out that he is also a GED teacher at Walla Walla Community College.
That fall, Biltat enrolled in his father’s class and in just under three weeks completed his GED, Villagomez said. A week later, after turning 18, Biltat signed on to the U.S. Army, but not without talking to his father.
“I said, ‘Son, is that what you really want? Have you really thought about it? You know that is a big decision.’ He said that is what he wanted to do, and he went and signed,” Villagomez said.
More than a year after signing on, in June of 2006 Biltat entered the Army. Then in November of that year he arrived at Fort Campbell as an infantryman assigned to the First Battalion, 187th Infantry regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
“I was not surprised, honestly I was not surprised ... he was always into soldiers, that was his thing, I was so proud of him and I still am,” Villagomez said.
After two tours of duty in Iraq, Biltat came home this December on leave.
“When he came back, I felt really good because my son made it and he was all right,” Villagomez said.
But a couple of weeks after Biltat returned to Fort Campbell, Villagomez learned his son was dead.
“At first I thought it was a bad joke. And the police said, ‘No sir. We don’t joke about things like that.’ And that is when I realized it was real.”
Though they have been given a preliminary finding, both Fernando and Donna Villagomez are still uncertain of their son’s death.
“Me and my husband, we don’t know what happened yet, so we are asking when the investigating will be done. But we just don’t know ... At this moment we are both mad and upset at this time,” Donna Villagomez said.
Fernando Villagomez added that during his visit, his son talked with him about his future.
“He was thinking of spending years in the Army. I asked him if he was ready to go to college. He said, ‘No, Dad. I am going to be part of the U.S. Army. I don’t really know for how many years. In fact I am going to start training people.”
The two also talked about preparing taxes. And about a week before his death, Biltat e-mailed his father to discuss military write-offs, options to obtain a larger refund.
“To me that is a clear message that he cared for money. So why would he do something like that when he was thinking about more money,” Villagomez said.
But even when the investigations are complete, Villagomez feels there will most likely be questions that will never be answered.
“I don’t know what my son did or saw over there in Iraq. I asked him, ‘Son, tell me what you do there.’ He said to me, ‘Dad, don’t go there. Don’t go there.’ He was not willing to share. I don’t know. I don’t know,” Villagomez said.
What is known is that Biltat was a highly decorated soldier. During his 21/2 years of service, his awards and decorations included Weapons Qualification M4 Expert, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Air Assault Badge, Combat Infantry Badge and an Overseas Service Ribbon.
“I don’t have the whole story. I don’t know if he went over to Iraq and did things that psychologically were too much for him. I don’t know,” Villagomez said.