Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., announced the disinterment of Michael LaShawn Anderson, which was made possible by recently enacted legislation that Coats authored. The Department of Veterans Affairs notified Coats that Anderson’s remains had been exhumed from Fort Custer National Cemetery in Augusta, Mich.
Anderson killed Alicia Dawn Koehl, 45, and wounded three people during a May 30, 2012, shooting spree at an Indianapolis apartment complex where Koehl worked. Anderson, 31, later took his own life.
Koehl, the mother of two children, was married to Paul Koehl, a Snider High School graduate. His parents, Frank and Carol Koehl, live in Fort Wayne.
“It won’t ever really be closure, but it does give us a sense of a little bit of peace,” Carol Koehl said in a telephone interview about the removal of Anderson’s remains.
She said Anderson’s burial in a national cemetery had been an insult to other military veterans and their families.
Roy Luera, director of Fort Custer National Cemetery, said in a telephone interview that Anderson’s remains had been exhumed by cemetery staff and the employees of a private funeral home by 11 a.m. Wednesday. Luera said no members of Anderson’s family were present and that information on where his remains were taken is not being released.
“Since the next of kin of record was unavailable, VA arranged for an appropriate disposition of Mr. Anderson’s remains,” Undersecretary for Memorial Affairs Steve Muro wrote in a notice sent to Coats.
Coats said in a statement: “While I am pleased this unacceptable mistake has been corrected, today’s events cannot bring back a wonderful wife and mother. With their hard work and determination, the Koehl family has honored Alicia through the passage of a law that bears her name and protects the integrity of our national cemeteries.”
Federal law prohibits the burial in national cemeteries of veterans who have committed capital crimes, including treason and categories of murder and rape, but who die before trial. Yet Anderson had been buried with military honors at taxpayer expense.
Saying they lacked the authority to correct the error, VA officials rejected the Koehl family’s requests to have Anderson’s remains removed from Fort Custer National Cemetery.
The Koehls turned to Coats, who appealed to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki before introducing the Alicia Dawn Koehl Respect for National Cemeteries Act. Rep. Susan Brooks, R-5th, introduced a version in the House.
Coats’ bill, which authorized the VA to disinter Anderson’s remains and those of any other veterans who committed capital offenses, was passed last fall by the Senate and the House and was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 20.
“It was a hard road to go, but we felt we needed to do it for our son and the grandchildren,” Carol Koehl said Wednesday. “We didn’t know how it was going to turn out, but we hoped for the best and actually prayed for the best. This is another step in the healing process for Paul and the kids.”