Remains found near Mo. base are missing airman’s

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE (AP) — Authorities are investigating an 18-year-old airman’s death as a homicide after finding his body Friday in a state park near Whiteman Air Force Base in western Missouri.

Johnson County deputies, using specially trained dogs, discovered the body of Airman 1st Class Luis Vazquez in a remote area of Knob Noster State Park.

Vazquez, of Alliance, Neb., and fellow airman Kerby Barbe, also 18, had failed to report for duty Monday at the base. Authorities said Barbe shot himself to death Tuesday in Texas.

The two had last been seen together Sunday, and authorities said Barbe later drove Vazquez’s pickup truck to his hometown of Blanco, Texas, where he committed suicide after a five-hour standoff with officers Tuesday.

Authorities in Blanco County, Texas, said at the time that Barbe was considered a suspect in the death of the other airman and that the body may be in Nebraska. They said Barbe had a rifle with 300 rounds of ammunition when he killed himself.

Johnson County Sheriff Charles Heiss, who’s leading the investigation in Missouri, said in a news release Friday evening that Barbe had told a female companion that he had critically injured another airman and left his body in the state park.

The cause of Vazquez’s death and a motive for the killing have not been determined, Heiss said.

Military and civilian authorities said Vazquez and Barbe had trained together at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and were recently assigned to Whiteman, where they had rooms in the same dormitory and were known as friends.

Brig. Gen. Scott Vander Hamm, commander of the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman, said in televised interviews Friday that he had no immediate explanation for the deaths.

“As far as motive, we’re just scratching our heads at this point,” he said.

Vander Hamm also said Barbe had left no suicide note, and that an intensive screening program of individuals’ backgrounds and mental health had not indicated the airman was troubled.

“If there were any red flags in all that time, we would have found them,” he said.

Other coverage online:

Airman's funeral set for Monday

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