Five years later, grieving family finally finds answers about son killed in combat

Posted at 5:31 PM, Oct 29, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-31 17:00:57-04

Virginia Beach, Va. - For nearly five years, a Gold Star family has been trying to find out what happened in the last minutes of their son’s life. They couldn’t find any answers until they turned on NewsChannel 3.

Outside the Virginia Beach home of Mark and Nancy Stets flies a flag which reads “Honor and Remember,” in memory of Mark Stets Jr., an Army Staff Sergeant killed in Pakistan in 2010.

His father, Mark Stets, says the red in the flag represents the blood that he shed, the white was the purity of sacrifice, the blue star is the service and the Gold Star is when they lost him.

His parents, who have been there since they day he was born, want more answers about the day he died.

“I would like to go over there and see where he was killed. Of course I couldn't do that, but that doesn't mean I don’t have the yearning to be able to talk to someone that was there,” said Mark’s mom, Nancy Stets.

The 39-year old Staff Sergeant was assigned to the 4th Psychological Operations Group based out of Fort Bragg in North Carolina. In 2009, he deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. In 2010, he was sent to Pakistan and was there for less than three months before a suicide bomber attacked his convoy and blew up his armored SUV.

“I thought, ‘Well Lord, if he was doing such a good job why did this have to happen?’” his mother said.

Three American soldiers, including Mark, died. Two survived.

Ever since that day, these grieving parents have searched for those survivors who were there with their son as he took his last breath.

It’s been five years of countless Google searches and phone calls to Army officials, but the Stets got no answers, that was until Mark Stets, Sr. turned on NewsChannel 3 one Sunday night.

“If I hadn’t watched Newschannel 3 that night, it would be gone,” said Mark Sr.

That night, NewsChannel 3 aired a story from Raleigh, North Carolina about a wounded warrior getting ripped off by a contractor. He had mentioned he was injured in a bombing in Pakistan in 2010.

“We didn`t see him until it was too late he blew himself up, killed three of my guys, wounded myself and my Sergeant Major,” said the man in the news story.

Mark Sr. knew that was the man he’d been looking for five years.

“No DNA testing needed,” he said.  “That was him.”

That’s when NewsChannel 3 took action to bring that man, Lieutenant Colonel Rob Pickel to Virginia Beach. Turns out, he’s been searching for the Stets' too.

“We didn`t come from the same parent unit, so I didn`t know anyone to get a hold of,” Pickel said. “I`m a little nervous but I`m excited to finally meet Mark's dad though. It is a little nerve-racking through.”

And that nervous anticipation built up right until Lt. Col. Pickel rang the doorbell. The Stets will never get the answers as to why their son was murdered, but because of the reunion, they now know how.

“It was a good mission. We were doing good work and Mark and his guys were doing great things helping the Frontier Corps and helping do what they wanted to do,” Pickel told the Stets.

“I`m sure what has happened there will be with you for the rest of your life, but never ever feel like you didn`t do your job. Never ever. We loved our son, we loved the Army and know that he was doing what he was asked to, he volunteered,” Mark Sr. told Pickel.

“It`s just not about the loss of Mark,” said Nancy Stets.  “But there are other things that have happened that are positives and getting to have meet you is one of them.”

These two families united by death will now bound for life by the memory of Staff Sergeant Mark Stets, Jr.

Mark Stets, Sr. says the two families are already making plans to spend Thanksgiving weekend together. He says Mark Jr.'s wife and three daughters actually live where Rob lives in Fayetteville. The two also plan on running the Virginia Run for the Fallen together next year.