Two high-ranking officers at Camp Pendleton were shot Tuesday, one fatally, and a sergeant in their unit was arrested for what the base spokesman called the most “unthinkable” act in the Marine Corps: a Marine attacking fellow Marines.
Lt. Col. Daniel W. Kidd, 40, executive officer of Marine Air Logistics Squadron 39, was pronounced dead within minutes of the shooting at the base hospital.
Lt. Col. Thomas A. Heffner, 43, commander of the unit, was taken by helicopter to Palomar Medical Center in nearby Escondido and was listed in serious but stable condition after emergency chest surgery.
Arrested at the scene was Sgt. Jessie A. Quintanilla, 28, a native of Guam who joined the corps in 1989 and was assigned to the supply section of the squadron. He did not try to flee or resist.
A spokesman said Quintanilla shot Kidd at point-blank range in the chest with a .45-caliber pistol and then shot Heffner when he rushed into the room to investigate.
No motive was established, but a base spokesman said that the possibility that Quintanilla’s name might have surfaced in connection with gang activities and that he was angry at his superior officers as a result is under investigation.
Gang affiliation can lead to discharge or rejection of a reenlistment application. The base has carried on an education campaign for Marines and their families about the dangers of joining off-base gangs.
The shooting occurred about 2:50 p.m. in the huge hangar where the squadron’s helicopters are housed and where Kidd and Heffner had adjoining offices. Four shots were fired.
Like many a small town, the sprawling base--with 37,000 active-duty Marines and sailors--has had its share of shootings. Some of them have been accidental and some intentional, but Tuesday’s incident left many at Camp Pendleton shaken.
The base was closed to all traffic for an hour while investigators searched for Quintanilla’s car. The result was a sizable traffic jam for cars trying to leave or enter the base, just south of Orange County.
“For a Marine to do such a heinous thing to other Marines is the most unthinkable thing imaginable,” Lt. Col. Jerry Broeckert said. “As Marines, we talk about leadership, about being a team, then something like this happens. It just doesn’t come together.”
Quintanilla, who lived in Riverside with his wife and 7-year-old son, had a clean record and never had been disciplined, Broeckert said.
Broeckert said that the incident was witnessed by another Marine.
Since the Marines have not issued .45-caliber pistols for many years, preferring instead the newer 9-millimeter weapons, Broeckert said investigators believe that the murder weapon was privately owned. Base rules allow private weapons only if they are registered with officials and not carried as concealed weapons.
Camp Pendleton, established to train Marines to fight in the South Pacific during World War II, is home to units that fought in Operation Desert Storm and were part of the peacekeeping mission in Somalia.
Marines receive advanced infantry and amphibious training at the base. In fact, one of its slogans, meant to show that Marines can strike anywhere in the world if ordered by the commander-in-chief, is “no beach beyond reach.”
As a sergeant, Quintanilla probably would not have worked directly with Kidd or Heffner. Instead he would have reported through a chain of command involving lower-ranking officers and noncommissioned officers.
Still, the executive officer is a more visible figure who carries out orders from superiors and makes many career decisions for subordinates.
Squadron 39, mainly a maintenance group, had 600 Marines so Kidd was “the dad for the people here,” Broeckert said. “He touched a lot of lives.”
Within 72 hours, Quintanilla will face a magistrate’s hearing, much like a civilian arraignment. Because the incident occurred on base, the case will be handled by a military court. Historically, such courts have meted out swifter and harsher penalties on criminal defendants than civilian courts.
Heffner is a native of Philadelphia, Kidd of Middleton, Ky. Heffner’s wife and children rushed to the hospital within minutes of the helicopter landing.