JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- April is Sexual Assault Prevention Awareness month. This year's theme is "Eliminate Sexual Assault: Know your part, do your part."
To bring this important topic to the forefront of everyone's mind, Joint Base San Antonio is holding a series of events throughout the month.
On April 2, Mary Lauterbach shared the tragic story of how her daughter, a young Marine, was sexually assaulted and later murdered by her attacker. Lauterbach spoke twice to a packed auditorium at San Antonio Military Medical Center.
"Today I am here to share my daughter's story as a learning tool, for indeed there are many lessons to be learned from her experience," Lauterbach said.
Lauterbach said her daughter Maria joined the Marines after high school.
"At first my husband and I were taken aback by the idea of Maria joining the Marines," she explained. "The more we thought about it, however, the more appealing the idea became. We assumed it would be a safer environment than a college campus."
After finishing boot camp the young Marine was off to her first duty station, Camp LeJuene in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
"She loved Marine life," her mother said. "We were very close and spoke almost daily."
On Mother's day of 2007 Maria called her mother to wish her Happy Mother's Day. After a few minutes on the phone, Maria told her mother that she had been raped by her supervisor while on night duty.
Lauterbach urged her daughter to report the assault which happened about a month earlier.
The next day she reported the attack to the officer in charge and was interviewed by Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
NCIS spoke with the OIC who informed them that the alleged attacker was a "stellar" Marine and Maria was a troublemaker trying to seek retribution.
Maria was assigned a victim advocate and transferred to a different building, but continued work in the same unit.
In June, Maria find out she was pregnant. As time went on, she began receiving more pressure from those around her to drop her charges and leave her attacker alone.
Around Christmas Lauterbach planned to visit her daughter. "On Friday, Dec. 14, Maria called me at work. She was very excited talking about our plans for my visit," Lauterbach said.
At the end of the conversation, Maria mentioned she had to attend a mandatory Christmas party which her attacker would also be attending.
"Maria said she hated being in the same room with him, so I suggested she put on her uniform, show her face to the necessary people, and go home and give me a call. She agreed and we said our goodbyes. That was the last time we spoke," Lauterbach said sadly.
That evening Lauterbach received a call from Maria's roommate, who told her he found a note which read, "I cannot take this Marine life anymore. I am leaving. Sorry for the inconvenience."
"I was dumbfounded, it didn't make any sense," Lauterbach said.
Lauterbach called everyone she could think of. They were all sympathetic but dismissed her worry and said her daughter would probably show up soon and there was nothing they could do.
Lauterbach then reported Maria missing to the Jacksonville police.
"They assured me they would take extensive measures to find Maria and a prudent parent would stay home and welcome her with open arms when she walked through the door," she said.
While sitting at home waiting, Lauterbach received a call from her daughter's cell phone. It was a man who said he had found the phone on the side of the road about a 1/2 mile from Camp LeJuene's main gate. He was walking because he had a flat tire.
"I thanked him profusely, and begged him to take the phone to the police station, which he did," Lauterbach explained.
After Christmas, there was still no sign of Maria. Lauterbach couldn't stand by any longer, so she headed down to Jacksonville.
"When I arrived I went to the police station and fortunately was assigned a new detective. He was a retired Marine who worked in security for 30 years," she said.
"Immediately he realized nothing had been done -- there was nothing in Maria's file -- not even the alleged note or anything about her cell phone being found."
The seasoned detective sensed something wasn't right. The two went to Camp LeJuene to meet with NCIS.
The detective asked if he could interview the accused, Cpl. Cesar Laurean. Their response was, "Why? He has nothing to do with this."
NCIS reluctantly agreed to set up the interview, and told them someone had attempted to use Maria's credit card at an ATM on Christmas Eve.
"On the way home I sensed that something awful had happened and no one believed me," Lauterbach said.
The picture from the ATM transaction showed a man trying to use Maria's card.
"At that moment I knew my daughter was gone, and I would spend the rest of my life draining every swamp in North Carolina until I found her," Lauterbach told the audience, as a large number of people were wiping tears from their eyes.
Laurean was never interviewed by the detective, because he deserted to Mexico, leaving a letter behind saying Maria committed suicide and he buried her in his backyard. Maria's remains and those of her unborn baby were found in Laurean's backyard firepit.
Laurean was captured in Mexico and later sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
After Lauterbach finished, BAMC Command Sgt. Maj. Tabitha Gavia thanked her for sharing her tragic story.
"Your words are now in our hearts and minds," Gavia said.
"We can't tolerate sexual assault in our organization or in our military because we are consummate professionals. In the military we have had our greatest successes when leaders at all levels take ownership and address matters that corrode unit readiness, cohesion and trust," Gavia passionately stated.
"Let's be clear, sexual assault eats at the core of a unit and tears down the command climate. It erodes trust among teammates and leaders. It stabs us in our hearts, brings us to our knees and creates fear, doubt and mistrust in our fellow man."
Lt. Gen. Perry Wiggins, commanding general, U.S. Army North and senior Army commander of JBSA, thanked Lauterbach for telling her story, "You are a mother who had the courage to stand up and help break this chain."
Wiggins challenged the audience to go out and tell four others the story they heard, "You will start a movement, I guarantee it," he said.
"If the military, if we can't rally together as a band of brothers and sisters to solve this problem than who can?" BAMC Commander Col. Evan Renz agreed.
"It's uncomfortable to talk about and puts many people on the defensive, but this issue must be addressed for the well-being of the military," Lauterbach concluded. "I implore you to be proactive in protecting the victims of sexual assault, because they are vulnerable and you could literally be saving their lives."