The May 6 death of Sgt. Sameer Rateb in Iraq has become a criminal investigation, the U.S. Army confirmed Wednesday.

The Criminal Investigation Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., is looking into the death of Rateb, 22, who died of what the military called “a non-combat related incident” at Forward Operating Base Summerall in Bayji, Iraq, said Shannon Wright, public information officer for the 82nd Airborne Division. According to its Web site, the CID’s mission is the “conduct of criminal investigations in which the Army is, or may be, a party of interest.”

Rateb spent part of his childhood in Brigantine and played on the city’s traveling Little League team before moving to Middlesex County as a teenager. His father, Mohamed Rateb, still lives in Brigantine.

Rateb’s mother, Elizabeth Howell, of Summerville, S.C., said Wednesday night that her son was found hanged the day he was supposed to leave Iraq to come home for a visit with his family.

The Army originally said his death was a suicide, “but the way they found him, his hands were cuffed behind his back, that’s not suicide. To me, it’s not,” Howell said.

The Army is keeping the family updated on the progress in the investigation, but it’s a real mystery, Howell said. It could take as long as 18 months to determine exactly what happened.

“When he left here, I was really worried, but the way he died was the last thing I expected,” Howell said.

She would be more understanding if Rateb had died on patrol or in combat, “because that’s what Sam loved to do,” Howell said. “This is unbelievable.”


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