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Akron Beacon Journal
By Phil Trexler, Beacon Journal staff writer
Published: November 5, 2011 – 07:01 AM
Amy Lucas cries as she talks about her son Levi Fogg, as she sits in her home in Akron. Fogg killed himself at Infocision Stadium last month. (Karen Schiely/Akron Beacon Journal)
Mom remembers son who died at InfoCision Stadium
He sat alone in the front row inside a darkened InfoCision Stadium. It was hours before sunrise on the University of Akron campus.
Levi Fogg was smartly dressed in his formal U.S. Army Reserve uniform. His shoes shined, his black necktie taut, his green jacket and slacks neatly pressed. He was to celebrate his 23rd birthday the next day with his family.
But the man who was so eager to sample everything in life’s kitchen was also deeply troubled.
He was, his family said, a reluctant soldier who didn’t want to fight the U.S. war in Afghanistan. He’d rather fight fires and rescue kittens than fight terrorists or comb the desert for mines.
Facing deployment to a war he opposed and already AWOL from his unit, Fogg made what his family calls a final statement from that 50-yard line seat.
Squeezing the Smith & Wesson .SSRI Editor0-caliber pistol he had bought a day before, he fired seven times into the air before turning the gun on himself that morning two weeks ago.
“I know that because of my decision [to go AWOL] they are going to break me down to the worst quality of life,” Fogg wrote in a letter he typed hours before his death Oct. 22. “[The Army] will take all my money and dishonorably discharge me, forever putting a black mark on my life and future careers.
“This is all because I don’t want to go fight a war that costs us $10 billion a month and for what? To fight terrorists?”
His birthday cake sits untouched in his grandparents’ refrigerator at their home in Cuyahoga Falls.
This weekend, his friends from a Colorado camp for burn survivors will meet for a memorial in Fogg’s honor. More than 300 turned out for his funeral last month. His grandparents, Billie and Harold Lucas, spent four nonstop hours greeting guests. Fogg’s mother, Amy Lucas, could barely go inside.
The sudden, shocking death has the family reeling, still searching for answers. One thing is clear from his choice of dying:
“He really wanted to make a statement,” his grandmother, Billie Lucas, said Friday.
Three years ago, Fogg graduated from Springfield High. Until last spring, he was attending UA, hoping to one day become a firefighter. His aspiration was probably a result of the devastating burns to his midsection and leg that he suffered when he was 4 years old. The curious boy had stood on his tricycle and thrown gasoline on a still-smoldering charcoal grill. Flames covered two-thirds of his body.
For years afterward, Fogg attended camps for burn survivors in Akron and Colorado. It became his lifeline, his family said. He took trips to United Kingdom and Washington, D.C. When he was old enough, he became a counselor, helping kids live with the scars, just as he did.
“I think because he was burned, it took him in the direction of being a fireman,” said Billie Lucas. “That was his goal. His burns made him very, very strong.”
He lived in Colorado after high school and attended college. His friendship with camp counselor Barry Millender grew closer; over eight years, it had become a father-son relationship.
For a short time, Fogg lived with Millender, 41, at his Greeley, Colo., home.
“The kid was a piece of magic,” Millender said by phone Friday. “He was just an amazing person.”
Fogg’s decision to join the Army Reserve in 2009 stunned family members. After all, Fogg was a lover, not a fighter, they said. But the service promised he would learn bridge building and receive money for college.
In fact, he seemed to thrive in the military. In boot camp at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, he finished in the top three from a class of 300, Millender said.
“I’ve never seen him happier,” he said.
A deer in headlights
But when the reality set in and he learned he would be sent to Afghanistan in early 2012 to work as a combat engineer, Fogg looked for an escape route. About the same time, he was diagnosed with depression, Millender said.
“He looked at me and said, ‘I’m not going. I don’t believe in this war. We’re not fighting for anything. I don’t want to go there and die for no reason,’ ” Millender said.
Finding an exit strategy proved difficult. He was “a deer in the headlights” who didn’t want to disappoint his senior officers or fellow soldiers. He was also struggling to feel happy with his new medication, his friend said.
His desire for a discharge seemed to intensify after a three-week training session in July, his family said. His commitment to the Reserve had already forced him to temporarily drop his emergency management classes at UA following the spring semester.
“I think when he signed up with the Army, he didn’t realize you do what they tell you to do,” said grandfather Harold Lucas, a military veteran. “He was rolling the dice.”
Fogg didn’t share a lot with his family about his efforts to leave the military. “I’m working on it” is about all he said. The family later learned he failed to report to his unit on Oct. 15 for more training in anticipation of deployment to Afghanistan.
“He’s the type of person who kept things to himself,” Billie Lucas said. “He didn’t want to worry you.”
The family believes Fogg received some news a day or so before his death. On Oct. 18, he paid $150 for a new pair of sneakers. By Oct. 20, he was buying a gun from a local sporting goods store. Amy Lucas believes the military contacted him sometime in between.
“They probably told him he was ruining his life, so he killed himself,” she said.
Self-esteem was never a shortcoming for Fogg, his family said. Although his father, Trone Fogg, was in prison for years at a time, Levi tried every sport he could, despite his athletic shortcomings.
He spoke like a little man. When other kids toted their books in backpacks, little Levi sported a briefcase as he made his way to his fifth-grade classroom at Chapel Hill Christian School in the Falls.
Later, he liked his “male model” looks, his chiseled biceps that grew from regular weight lifting. He drove fast cars and wore snappy clothes but kept his bedroom in shambles. He had a longtime girlfriend. His family, including his mother, a younger half brother, Forrest Young, and his aunt Tara McClintock, met every Sunday for dinner at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.
“He was a shining star,” his mother said.
“Hugging him was like hugging a tank,” his grandfather said. “He was as solid as a rock.”
But over the past summer, with Afghanistan looming on his horizon, Fogg saw a psychiatrist who prescribed antidepressants to help him cope with his turmoil.
“You see, I have a hard time living day-to-day life,” Fogg wrote in his letter. “What makes it worse is that I rely on a daily dose of anti-psychotic drugs just to try to keep me ‘normal.’ I honestly hate the rat race that life is. No matter what I do, I’m not happy.”
Fogg lived in a Vine Street apartment with two roommates near the UA campus. Just before midnight Oct. 21, the friends found the note Fogg started earlier that day and left on his bed. By 3 a.m. Oct. 22, Fogg’s 2003 BMW was found parked outside Info- Cision Stadium. The doors were unlocked.
An initial search by police inside the darkened stadium proved fruitless. But by 11 a.m., as crews entered for that day’s UA football game, Fogg’s body was found.
One of his last postings on his Facebook page read: “Death before Dishonor.” But Fogg was no fighter, his family said. He certainly couldn’t kill someone. Relatives blame the military for offering false hope and then refusing to release him.
“He didn’t want to be dishonored,” Amy Lucas said. “But he loved himself. He had great self-esteem. He wasn’t planning this.”
UA police and the Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office are still investigating the death. Fogg’s family wants to see his cell-phone records to determine whether he had spoken to someone from the Army Reserve before his death. Efforts to reach a spokesperson for the military were unsuccessful Friday.
But Amy Lucas said she received a call from the military after her son’s death. The conversation did not last long.
“I said, ‘You killed my son’ and I hung up,” she said.
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or email@example.com.