GRAND FORKS -- Two days before Natasha Aposhian was shot and killed at Grand Forks Air Force Base, she called her mother in Phoenix.
"Mom, I think he's going to kill me," she said, according to her mother, Megan Aposhian.
"I begged her to report it," Megan Aposhian told a group of reporters on the steps of the Arizona Capitol Building earlier this month. "She left me with the impression that she intended to do just that."
A1C Aposhian, 21, was killed in a dormitory at GFAFB in the early morning of June 1. A1C Julian Carlos Torres, 20, of Texas, also was killed by gunfire. Few official details have been released by the base, but at the press conference in Arizona, Megan Aposhian offered her version of the incident.
According to her, she was told her daughter had been shot four times in the back by Torres, a man she had been dating for less than two weeks, before he took his own life. During the press conference, said she was told this by "the Air Force and other individuals at the base."
A 319th Reconnaissance Wing spokesperson this week declined to comment on the status of the investigation.
Natasha Aposhian, a recent graduate of basic training who was eager to begin her career with the Air Force, had been stationed in Grand Forks for about a month.
Now, more than 400 state lawmakers are calling for a congressional investigation into Aposhian's death, as well as the death of Specialist Vanessa Guillén, 20, a U.S. Army soldier who authorities believe was bludgeoned to death in an armory at Fort Hood, Texas, last April by another soldier, Spc. Aaron David Robinson. After Guillén's remains were found on June 30, Robinson fled. He killed himself when confronted by law enforcement.
According to reports from various national news outlets, Guillén's family has said that prior to her disappearance, Guillén confided in them that she was being sexually harassed, and that she did not feel comfortable reporting the harassment within her chain of command. U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy has ordered an independent review of the command climate at Fort Hood, including the allegations of sexual harassment.
Arizona State Rep. César Chávez, one of the 400 members of the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators who signed a letter demanding congressional action, appeared with Megan Aposhian at the press conference to call for an end to the "fraternity culture" within the military.
"The death of these two women cannot go unnoticed," he said at the time. "And they cannot go without necessary reform within the military system. Why did the killers allegedly have firearms when they were not supposed to? Where was the accountability on behalf of their superiors? And what is our military doing to provide mental health care to our soldiers? These are a few of the many questions that we will be fighting and advocating to get an answer to."
Patterns of abuse
Megan Aposhian said Natasha told her that Torres was jealous and controlling, and that she believed he was stalking her.
U.S. Department of Defense spokesperson Jessica Maxwell told the Herald via email that the DoD does not track intimate partner abuse within the military, because it is impossible to know how many intimate partnerships there are.
However, the DoD 2019 Report on Sexual Assault in the Military shows an increase in recent years of sexual violence among service members. Reports of sexual assault by active-duty service members increased 3% from 2018 to 2019, and restricted reports, or reports of sexual assault that were made confidentially without starting an official investigation, rose 17% in the same time frame.
The same report indicated that in 2018, 24.2% of active-duty women reported experiencing sexual harassment, up from 21.4% in 2016. In 2018, 6.3% of active-duty men reported sexual harassment as well, but the report found that women who reported harassment were three times more likely to experience sexual assault.
The report noted that while "male-dominated culture norms" in the military appear to slowly be giving way, military women still face discrimination, and many perceive the need to advocate for fair treatment, despite being expected to conform to "male culture." Sexual harassment remains a gray area, according to the report.
That's not news to Fargo woman Nyamal Dei, who has long been aware of a military culture that she claims can be punishing to women who speak out about abuse.
Wednesday, July 15, Dei was among those who participated in a vigil for Aposhian in downtown Grand Forks. During the event, Dei told a crowd of several dozen people that she has many uncles and cousins who served in the military, and that at one point she, too, had considered enlisting.
When her uncle, a veteran, heard of her military aspirations, he urged her to find another path.
"The reason is because he saw what is going on in the military," she said.
The organizers of the Grand Forks vigil emphasized that the purpose of the event was to honor Aposhian's life rather than to protest her death. Still, several members of the crowd took the megaphone to call for change.
Frederick Edwards, who spoke at the vigil, was one of those people. He said he has family members who were Marines who claim service members from underrepresented groups might not receive as much support from their chain of command as people from other groups.
"This is not all right, that in North Dakota somebody was given a half slip when they were supposed to be given a full check," Edwards said. "I think that it's so wrong for people in our community to say we are fighting for veterans, we are fighting for the military, but we are not fighting for veterans and we're not fighting for the military who are being underserved."
Meanwhile, Megan Aposhian is still looking for answers about her daughter's death. Who owned the gun? How did it come to be in the base dormitory, where firearms are prohibited? Did Torres have a history of abuse toward women? Did Natasha Aposhian ever report his behavior? Did she suffer?
Most of all, Megan Aposhian said at the Phoenix press conference that she hopes women like her daughter and Guillén don't get swept under the rug and forgotten.
"It feels to me like everyone just dusted her off their hands – that there is no more left to be done because my daughter's killer is dead," she said at the event. "But I don't think that boxing up my daughter's belongings and sending them home to her family should mark the end of this incident to anyone."