|This case has remained unsolved for 1 years, 3 months, and 29 days.|
Denisha Montgomery Smith joined the Army in January 2021 in an effort to help support her three young children. In May 2022, she was deployed to Wiesbaden, Germany, and things seemed to be going well for a while.
However, in July, she contacted her family via video call and showed them injuries and bruises, claiming that she’d been assaulted by fellow officers. Montgomery’s family encouraged her to report the incident, but in a text to her uncle, she explained that she was discouraged from filing a report.
A few weeks later on August 9, the Army reached out to Montgomery’s family and told them that she’d been found deceased, then ruled the death a suicide. Her family didn’t believe she would commit suicide. A few days later, an Army press release stated that the criminal investigation division (CID) was investigating the death, but there is no outcome yet, and more and more activists are suggesting that Montgomery’s death was no suicide.
What really happened in this case? Did Montgomery really commit suicide, as the Army had ruled on the day of her death, or was foul play involved, as her friends and family suspect? What happened to Denisha Montgomery Smith?
Table of Contents
About Denisha Montgomery Smith
Denisha Montgomery Smith was originally from Elizabethtown, KY. In 2021, she lived in Hodgenville, KY (just over 10 miles from Elizabethtown) with her husband, Joshua Smith, and her three young boys. Her family described her as a loving mother, a caretaker, and a devoted wife and her husband described her as “a perfect person.”
Montgomery joined the US Army in January 2021, wanting to help provide for her boys. She was deployed to Wiesbaden, Germany with the 139th Military Police Company in the summer of 2022.
Police Officer Aspirations
After serving in the Army, Montgomery wanted to return home to become a police officer in Elizabethtown, as she was interested in forensics. Her mother, Heather Clark, said:
“Denisha had a love for her town and her community, and that’s why she wanted to be a police officer for Elizabethtown Police Department eventually. She wanted to make it a better place for everybody.”Heather Clark (Source: Messenger-Inquirer)
But Montgomery never got the chance to come home. Instead, she was found deceased in Germany on August 9, 2022 in what the Army originally ruled as a suicide by suffocation. How and why did this happen? And is the Army trying to cover something up, as so many are speculating?
Troubles in Germany
During her deployment, Montgomery called home via a video call on July 19 and showed her family bruises and open wounds, claiming that she’d been injured by her fellow Army officers. She said in the video, “I just want to come home. Look what they did to me!”
Elaborating further, Montgomery explained that she and other officers had gone off-base to a water park and had been drinking. On the way back, they allegedly assaulted her: “They choked me out like they was doing this in the car. I kept telling them… I cant breathe!”
Montgomery also revealed that she’d lost trust in the Army to deal with the situation. “I can’t be here no more. I don’t trust them, I don’t trust my leadership, I don’t want to be here with none of them no more,” she said further in the video, wiping tears from her eyes. She told her family that she planned to report the assault the next day.
Unfortunately, Montgomery was discouraged from reporting the incident. In a text message to her uncle the following day, she explained, “They told me if I report an assault I’ll be charged with assault too because I mushed the female and bit the male that was choking me.”
Montgomery Kept Serving
Regardless, Montgomery continued on serving in Germany. She was excited to be coming home within the next month. Heather Clark, her mother, said:
“She and her husband were dancing together on video chat. She was smiling and blowing him kisses while she packed her stuff. She was in a good mood, and she was excited about coming home.”Heather Clark (Source: Messenger-Inquirer)
It seemed that Montgomery had resolved to finish serving the rest of her deployment — only about another 30 days — and head home to the United States. Despite everything, it seemed like things would work out and she’d be home soon.
The Circumstances Around Montgomery’s Death
On August 9, 2022, the Army reached out to Montgomery’s family to inform them that she was deceased. The family says that the Army told them that the manner of death was suicide with the cause being suffocation. (As an aside, if you’re struggling yourself, please reach out to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.) This was on the same day her body had been discovered, so it’s unclear how much time the Army spent investigating the incident before contacting the family.
Montgomery’s mother, Heather, immediately doubted the Army’s findings.
“They said, ‘We’re sorry to inform you that your daughter has committed suicide by suffocation.’ And I said, ‘How do you suffocate yourself? How can you possibly suffocate yourself?’”Heather Clark (Source: News Nation).
Montgomery’s father, Rodney, also stated that he doubted that his daughter would have killed herself. He said, “She never in a million years would have killed herself. No doubt in my mind; I know my kid.”
The Press Release
On August 14, 2022, the army released a statement regarding Montgomery’s death. They wrote:
“On Aug. 9, Pfc. Denisha Montgomery, assigned to the 139th Military Police Company, was found unresponsive in her barracks room on Lucius Clay Kaserne, in Wiesbaden, Germany. Emergency services were immediately called and the scene was secured until their arrival. She was pronounced dead on the scene… The incident is currently under investigation by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division. A complete and thorough investigation will be conducted. We take any and all accusations regarding this incident seriously and request everyone refrain from posting unsubstantiated information to social media platforms. All verified information will be distributed by U.S. Army Europe and Africa Public Affairs.”US Army Press Release (Source: US Army Europe and Africa)
Family Doubts Suicide Theory
Montgomery’s family found it odd that, five days after the supposed suicide, the Army was only now conducting an investigation. Montgomery’s aunt, Tomeka Light who herself served for 13 years in the Army and was awarded a Purple Heart, said:
“It doesn’t make any sense. How are you still investigating when you prematurely said she committed suicide? That tells me that you’ve already have a determination.”Tomeka Light (Source: News Nation)
Joshua Smith, Montgomery’s husband, also refutes the idea that his wife took her own life. Her mother, Heather Clark, said, “I just want to raise awareness of her name and hopefully get a little bit closer to finding out the truth about what happened to my daughter.” Aunt Tomeka Light also added:
“How dare you allow my niece’s death to be in vain? How dare you prematurely tell us that this strong, beautiful individual, took her life when we know better? We want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but.”Tomeka Light (Source: Army Times)
It seems that none of Montgomery’s friends or family believe that she would have taken her own life and the family is demanding a more thorough investigation, which the Army claims to be conducting.
Reports of the Water Park Incident
There were some conflicting reports regarding the incident at the water park and what really went on that night. Montgomery’s sister, Jada, said:
“CID [the criminal investigation division] told us on the phone that, that night at the water park, two individuals that were not with her tried to sexually assault her in a restroom.”Jada Montgomery (Source: Army Times)
The family was also told that the officers that Montgomery accused of attacking her were simply trying to defend her from these two unknown individuals who tried to assault her. Obviously, Montgomery presented a very different account of events in the video calls to her family.
Family Gets Outside Help
Because of the dubious circumstances surrounding this case, Montgomery’s family reached out to Lindsey Knapp, an executive director of Combat Sexual Assault (an organization that helps the survivors and families of military sexual assaults). In an interview on News Nation, she stated:
“We’ve got a service member who was afraid for her life, and assaulted, 21 days prior to her death. What we’re calling for now is that the FBI immediately take this case over. Because what the military has shown us is that they are unable to take this case and give Denisha the justice that she deserves.”Lindsey Knapp (Source: News Nation)
Another advocate, Amy Frank of Never Alone Advocacy, also doubts the suicide theory in Montgomery’s case:
“If leadership believed that she was suicidal, she should have not been walking around with a gun. What I do know is none of this makes sense.”Amy Frank (Source: News Nation)
An Army spokesperson told the Army Times in September 2022: “While we are yet to have a final determination of the cause or manner of death, we can say that there were no signs of foul play.” This is at odds with what Montgomery’s family said the Army told them just a month earlier in August 2022 (regarding the determination of suicide on the day of her death).
Similar Case — Vanessa Guillen
Many have suggested that there are parallels between Montgomery’s case and the case of Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year-old Army soldier at Fort Hood, TX who was assaulted, murdered, and dismembered in April 2020. Her remains weren’t found until June 2020. Many criticized the Army’s response to Guillen’s disappearance, as well as how the Army responds to reports of sexual harassment and assault.
After Guillen’s remains were found, an investigation was ordered into Fort Hood’s command culture. When the investigation was completed in December 2020, 14 Army officials were either fired or suspended — including some high-ranking officials. The report concluded that the command culture there “was permissive of sexual harassment and sexual assault.”
Due to the similarities, Montgomery’s case has been compared with Guillen’s. “Sadly, the story is a repeat of Vanessa Guillen and many other people that we have heard about in the last 20 years of our advocacy,” said Lynn Matthews, a woman who was featured in the documentary “The Invisible War” which discussed the pervasive sexual assault culture in the US Military.
Theories on What Happened
There are really only a few theories about what happened in this case — that is, either Montgomery committed suicide or she didn’t. The fact that the Army is investigating further is a step in the right direction, although perhaps an independent investigation would be more appropriate in this case given the circumstances.
Montgomery Committed Suicide
To better examine this case, it’s important to understand what the original Army determination of suicide meant. They listed her manner and cause of death as suicide by suffocation, but what does that mean? Suicide by suffocation is the second most common form of suicide in the United States. It encompasses smothering, strangulation, hanging, choking, and the use of chemicals to induce asphyxia. It’s not clear which method Montgomery allegedly used.
About a week later though, the Army released their press release stating that “the incident is currently under investigation by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division.” It’s not clear if the cause and manner of death has actually been revised.
Given the information that we have — Montgomery was unhappy in Germany and had been allegedly subjected to assaults, then discouraged from reporting them — some might suggest that she committed suicide to try to escape the situation. However, she was due to return home in less than 30 days according to her father. Was the situation so dire that she felt like she couldn’t even wait for another few weeks?
Montgomery was Killed
The other theory in this case is that Montgomery was killed, likely by those assailants who’d attacked her before. Some suggest that they caught wind that she might try reporting the incident and, in an effort to silence her, they killed her and tried to stage the scene as a suicide. To their credit, the Army’s original ruling was that of suicide.
This is why the family is asking for further investigations into Montgomery’s death. Her aunt and Purple Heart recipient, Tomeka Light, said:
“I take this seriously because I sacrificed my life and I actually went to war and fought and got injured in combat. For my niece to be in a peace-time situation, no conflict at all and to lose her life… Yeah, you failed my niece, is what I feel. You failed her.”Tomeka Light (Source: WDRB)
What Do I Think Happened?
I don’t think Montgomery committed suicide for a number of reasons. One, as her father pointed out, was that she was due to return home to the States within 30 days: “She was a really strong girl, and she had less than 30 days left before she came home.” She was packed and excited to come home, according to her husband and family. Secondly, no one in her family — those who know her best — believes that she would have committed suicide. There are no sources that suggest she had any suicidal ideations or mental health issues.
Lastly, the incident at the waterpark clearly left Montgomery injured and shaken, and yet when she tried to report it, she was told that she’d end up in trouble too. Is the argument then that she committed suicide because she was upset about the incident? And if she was so upset to the point of ending it all, why was she on a video call dancing and blowing kisses to her husband, saying how excited she was to come home?
Even if the Army’s Conclusion is Suicide…
And, even if the conclusion of the investigation is that Montgomery did commit suicide, I would still hold the Army accountable for that, too. Why was an active service member able to commit suicide while on their watch? Why was she discouraged from reporting the alleged assaults? Why weren’t mental and physical health services offered to her if she was really in such a dire state?
The military is happy to send men and women to war, risking their lives for our country, but when it comes to helping those service men and women upon their return (or even during active duty), the military falls hopelessly short. One needs to look no further than at the suicide rates for veterans: in 2019 alone, 6,146 veterans committed suicide. That’s an average of more than 16 veterans committing suicide every day in 2019.
So, even if Montgomery’s death is ruled a suicide, I would still hold the Army responsible. Not enough is being done to improve the mental health of the brave men and women who sacrifice everything to serve this country.
I sincerely hope that the Army is looking into Montgomery’s death with an independent lens, although given the information that has come out about the case so far, I doubt it.
Regardless of how she died, the Army failed her. I think Montgomery’s veteran and Purple Heart recipient aunt, Tomeka Light, said it best: “We are coming for justice — know that. We are coming for justice. We will get it one way and we are Denisha Montgomery Smith.”
Although this case is a relatively recent one, there have been some important updates already.
December 2022: Senator Grassley Writes to Army CID
In a letter dated December 6, 2022, Senator Charles “Chuck” Grassley wrote to the Army CID regarding Montgomery’s death. He wrote:
“The circumstances surrounding PFC Montgomery’s death raise serious questions which require further investigation from your division and answers to Congress… The events that led to PFC Denisha Montgomery’s death need to be thoroughly investigated and clearly communicated to the family and my office. The men and woman of the Armed Forces and their families deserve complete transparency in this matter.”Sen. Grassley’s Letter (Source: Senate.gov)
January 2023: New Videos of the Waterpark Incident Released
In January 2023, new videos came to light that showed some altercations with Montgomery and some other officers. In a cellphone video, she is seen seated in the front passenger seat having an argument with another woman in the car. Eventually, Montgomery asks to be let out of the car and that’s when an officer sitting in the back seat seems to put an arm around her neck.
In a second video of the same incident, the vehicle is stopped and Montgomery is screaming and crying, begging to be left alone. In response, one officer appears to yell, “Get that fucking bitch back in the car!”
The third video shows Montgomery lying on the back seat across the laps of three seated officers. One of them was holding her down, his hand across her mouth. “I can’t breathe!” she shouted before another officer told the first to “stop holding her like that.”
Despite these videos, the Army concluded that Montgomery was not assaulted. However, an investigating officer in Germany wrote in his report: “I believe presented evidence supports assault occurred.”
Do You Have Information?
If you have information about what happened to Denisha Montgomery Smith, please contact the European Army CID at +49–611–143–565–6252 or email them at email@example.com.
Cold Case Questions
- Do you agree with the Army’s ruling that Denisha Montgomery Smith’s death was a suicide? Or do you think something else happened?
- Will the Army revise their findings?
- Do you think this case will ever be solved?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
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