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Soldier's parents get worst news -- then best Call on combat death proves erroneous

The Jasper family of Niagara Falls was given a ride Sunday afternoon on a needlessly steep emotional roller coaster.

Now the family, still reeling from an erroneous call they received that their 26-year-old son had been killed in Afghanistan last weekend, is demanding answers.

Raymond and Robin Jasper were camping Sunday in Springville when they received an "urgent" call from a U.S. military liaison who they say told them that their son, Army Sgt. Jesse Jasper, a nine-year veteran with tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, died Saturday overseas.

Robin Jasper said her husband was responding to a message left on his phone by the civilian liaison with whom they had talked once before. That liaison is located in Duluth, Minn.

"She said, 'Call me as soon as you can,' " Robin Jasper said, explaining that the family heard the worst upon calling back. "She said, 'This is a red-line message. I have to read it to you exactly as it says.' "

Then, according to the Jaspers, the voice on the other end of the phone told Raymond that his son had died Saturday, along with a 23-year-old soldier from Kansas.

"I said to [my husband], 'Is he hurt -- how bad?,' " Mrs. Jasper said. "He said, 'He's dead,' and he dropped the phone."

The couple dropped to the floor in grief, she said.

They jumped into their vehicle and drove directly home to Niagara Falls. Family members began spreading the word of Jesse Jasper's reported death.

Family and friends arrived at the family's home, many with food and offers of condolence. Others posted messages of love and "rest in peace" in honor of the sergeant on Facebook.

Ironically, it was the Facebook page that would finally rescue the Jaspers from their grief. Jesse Jasper's girlfriend, who lives in North Carolina (he is stationed at Fort Bragg), called incredulously after seeing the postings online.

"She said, 'He's not dead, he's not dead, I just talked to him [earlier Sunday]. I just got off the phone with him,' " the sergeant's mother said.

At that point, the Jaspers made contact with an Army captain who knows their son and confirmed that he was alive and well in Afghanistan.

"We don't know what to think," Robin Jasper said. "How does this happen? How do you call someone by mistake and devastate an entire family and community?"

"If my son's girlfriend hadn't been on Facebook, we'd still believe he was dead."

She scoffed at the notion the family should have known better because the military makes such announcements by personally visiting families of fallen soldiers.

"If they did show up in person at home, we weren't home," she said. "We weren't at home. Why wouldn't we believe this?"

Sgt. Tyler A. Juden, of Winfield, Kan., was, in fact, killed Saturday in Turan, Afghanistan, according to a Department of Defense report, when his unit came under fire from enemy forces using rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire.

Juden was in the same platoon as her son, Robin Jasper mother said, and Jesse Jasper helped transport the fallen Juden's body.

Robin Jasper said that she talked with her son Monday and that he was "mad" upon learning of the trauma his own family went through and plans to address the matter with his commander in Afghanistan.

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer is also demanding answers on behalf of the family.

Military officials aren't saying much in the meantime. The liaison, according to a WGRZ-TV report, acknowledged calling the family but denied saying that Jesse Jasper had died.

Meanwhile, the unbelievable story swept across the news wires all day Monday with reports published in the USA Today and by other news outlets from Delaware to Colorado.

Jasper, who joined the military in 2000 while he was still in high school, trained as a paratrooper at Fort Drum, near Watertown. He is a member of the Special Forces and scored best in class during training in biochemical warfare, his mother said.

"We're extremely proud of him and at the same time, we don't want him to be there," Robin Jasper said.

The sergeant had served in the Iraq War and last month began a one-year tour in Afghanistan.

Attempts to reach military officials Monday night were unsuccessful.

e-mail: tpignataro@buffnews.com

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