News Details

Family of Rockville teen killed in murder-suicide might sue Army

St. John Barned-Smith

Published: Wednesday 12 June, 2013

Army superiors negligently supervised Adam Anthony Arndt, the 31-year-old U.S. Army recruiter who police believed killed a 17-year-old Rockville girl and then took his own life in an apparent murder-suicide in April, according to a claim the girl’s family has filed against the U.S. Army.

“It was only because of a complete abdication of supervision responsibilities that [Arndt] was able to begin an inappropriate sexual relationship with Michelle Miller culminating with her unfortunate death,” the claim reads.

The claim is the first step in a planned lawsuit seeking $10 million in damages from the Army, said attorney Karl Protil, who is representing Michelle Miller’s family.

Had Arndt’s superiors monitored him more closely, they would have discovered he wrote sexually suggestive comments to potential recruits, acted inappropriately toward potential recruits or enlistees and had written poetry online openly discussing suicide, the family argues in the claim, which they recently revealed to The Gazette.

Protil filed the claim on behalf of the family April 29 with the Office of the Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Army. The claim is not a lawsuit. Federal law requires people wishing to sue the government or a government agency, such as the Army, to file a claim first.

The Army has six months to respond to the family’s claim — either to settle it, or deny it, Protil said. At that point, the Millers will have another six months to decide how they want to proceed. More action in the case would take place in federal court.

In a lengthy interview, Kevin Miller, father of the 17-year-old victim, explained what happened the night his daughter died and what he has learned since her death.

Joining the Reserves

Miller said when Michelle first told him she wanted to join the Army Reserves, he tried to discourage her. He was afraid she’d get hurt face challenges because of her gender.

“Being a girl in the military, you’ve really got to be on your toes,” he remembers worrying.

But Michelle’s enthusiasm for the Army didn’t come as a surprise — as a fourth-grader, she had worn camouflage to class so many times she got in trouble with her teachers, he said.

Her enthusiasm waned during middle school and high school, but as her graduation from Rockville High School neared, Michelle had enlisted in the Army Reserves and was preparing herself for basic training and then to study psychology at the University of Arizona, he said.

She wanted to counsel returning soldiers to help them heal from the mental scars of war, he said. And she believed she would receive a Army scholarship, which would pay for 75 percent of her tuition, he said.

“She’d done a lot of thinking about it,” he said.

Michelle, who played lacrosse and soccer and was taking college classes at Montgomery College, already was active at the recruiting center, he said. She’d tutor other recruits and had started working out more to prepare for basic training.

“Look, Dad, I’m getting biceps!” she’d tell him, he said.

She talked about Arndt a lot when she first met him, Miller said, remembering his daughter telling him, “This guy’s so cool. His wife’s so pretty.”

Miller said he asked Michelle once, several months before her death, “Is there something I need to know?” Michelle responded, “No ... that’s not my game plan.”

Arndt was a native of Manitowoc, Wis., and had served in the Army since October 2003, Army Recruiting spokeswoman Kathleen Welker said. He served tours in Korea in 2004 and Germany in 2007 and deployed to Turkey for a year before being assigned to the work as a recruiter stationed in Gaithersburg, she said.

He was a “Future Soldier Leader,” meaning he helped prepare recruits who already had enlisted stay motivated and help them prepare for basic training.

Missing Michelle

Miller gave this account of the last night of his daughter life:

Michelle came downstairs about 9 p.m. Her mother, Pacita Miller, was in the kitchen, clipping their dog, a half-Pekingese, half-Shih Tzu named Chloe.

She told her mom, “I’ve got to go out. One of my platoon members is feeling suicidal. I gotta help him out.”

Then, she bolted, after promising to text him the address once she got there.

There wouldn’t be a text.

“It doesn’t sound very safe,” he remembers telling her. Michelle responded, “I know this guy. He’s harmless.”

“As soon as she left, I just got bad feelings,” he said.

Miller left the house about an hour later to look for her before eventually returning home and calling police. Police were at his home until 3 a.m. He and his wife tried to sleep, but by 6 a.m. Miller was out searching for her again.

At first he didn’t even think of Arndt, Miller said. But he found out the Germantown neighborhood where the man lived from one of Michelle’s friends and searched there until he spotted Michelle’s car. Miller said he banged on the front door to Arndt’s home, but no one answered. No one answered as he pounded on the windows. The lights were all off. “That’s when I got really scared,” he said.

He called police and paced outside the home until they arrived.

“My hope was they were drunk into a stupor. But I was fearing the worst,” he said.

He waited for what he said seemed like hours, before police arrived and finally forced their way into the house, he said.

“Time ran all into weirdness,” he said.

When two officers came out and stood on either side of him, “That’s when I knew she was dead,” he said. “There was kind of a haze then.”

Police discovered Michelle’s and Arndt’s bodies about 10 a.m. April 8, he said. Officers told him they discovered the two sitting in the shower, Michelle appearing to be kissing Arndt on the cheek or whispering in his ear. Arndt had shot her through the left temple, then killed himself, Miller says investigators told him.

He imagines her telling him “it’s going to be OK,” trying to stop him.

Montgomery County Police and the U.S. Army Police expect their investigation to wrap up about July 1, pending further analysis of a final report from the Maryland Chief Medical Examiner’s office, police spokeswoman Angela Cruz said.

Putting together the pieces

After his daughter’s death, warnings emerged, which made him believe it could have been prevented.

“The powers that be should have known something was wrong with this guy,” he said.

“This guy was supposed to be her mentor... instead he chose to use her ... Maybe he needed to kill her to make him kill himself.”

Reached via phone, Randy Schum, Arndt’s father-in-law, said he was not aware of Miller’s claim and had not communicated with the Millers. But he said the murder-suicide also left him confused.

“I’m not happy with the way things happened, how he seemingly slipped through cracks. ... There had to be some checkpoint somewhere to check this guy,” he said.

“For someone to do what he did is just beyond me ... especially taking someone else’s life. It’s very hard for me to understand. I can only thank God my daughter wasn’t there. ... I feel terrible for the Millers. To lose a daughter, I can’t imagine that.”

Schum said the first time he talked to Arndt was after the man called him to ask to marry his daughter.

Schum was sitting in parking lot near a Giant supermarket, he said.

“My daughter was in love. What was I going to say?”

Arndt was polite, straightforward and “one of the nicest people I ever met,” he said.

“It happened really quick. She was really smitten by him. She’s had a really tough time,” Schum said.

Since Michelle’s death, Miller has seen dozens of Facebook messages Arndt had sent Michelle, he said.

“There are times it seems like he talked to her for hours,” Miller said, of the Facebook message chains. Miller learned from Michelle’s friends that Arndt was communicating with at least one other girl, as well, he said.

Arndt started texting Michelle before she’d even officially signed with the Army, he said.

“Had I seen any of that I would have been in the recruiting station,” he said.

Miller said one friend told him she got a text from Michelle before she died, saying “We’ve been friends forever ... I love you.” Followed by another that said, “good-bye.”

Personal communication is expressly forbidden between recruiters and recruits, Welker said. Recruiters may not engage in any unofficial, personal contact with recruits or potential recruits, she said.

George Wright, a U.S. Army spokesman, declined to comment about the specifics of Miller’s claim.

“This case not withstanding, U.S. Army recruiters are typically some of the most professional soldiers we have in the army. They are highly motivated, accomplished, and many have had distinguished careers already,” he said.

Recruiters are trained to operate to a high standard and independently, he said. Allegations of sexually related offenses between enlistees and recruiters is rare, he said — during the past five years, there has been an average of 10,800 Army recruiters working every year, with 365,000 enlistments into the active Army and Army Reserve. There have been 326 substantiated sexually related offenses involving recruits in that time, he said. This represents less than one-tenth of a percentage point (.03 percent) of recruiters who commit these offenses, he said in an email Tuesday.

Arndt already was facing an inquiry into his marriage — he had married a 21-year-old recruit who enlisted at the Gaithersburg recruiting station before he became a Future Soldier Leader. That inquiry was opened in early March. It has been merged with the larger inquiry opened after Arndt and Miller’s deaths, Welker said.

As for that Army scholarship, Miller said he got a letter dated April 16 saying Michelle wasn’t getting it. The Army cut the scholarship due to budget constraints.

Family of Rockville teen killed in murder-suicide might sue Army