‘It’s just incredible sadness’: Family approaches 1-year anniversary of Meaghan Burns’ murder

  • U.S. Navy Corpsman Meaghan Burns CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • U.S. Navy Corpsman Meaghan Burns in her boot camp graduation photograph in November 2015. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • The Burns family during a family vacation in Dublin, Ireland, in April 2017. U.S. Navy Corpsman Meaghan Burns, far right, was one of three active-duty Navy corpsmen who died in Portsmouth, Virginia, on May 4 in a double homicide and suicide. She is joined by her mother, Carolyn, younger sister, Kyleigh Rose, and father, Matthew. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • U.S. Navy Corpsman Meaghan Burns shows off her work following a pizza-making course in Florence, Italy. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • U.S. Navy Corpsman Meaghan Burns with her fiance, James. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Community members line the streets of South Deerfield as police escort fallen Navy corpsman Meaghan Burns past the Town Common to Wrisley Funeral Home, May 14, 2019. FILE PHOTO

  • Community members line the streets of South Deerfield as police escort fallen Navy corpsman Meaghan Burns past the Town Common to Wrisley Funeral Home on Tuesday evening, May 14, 2019. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/4/2020 10:19:11 AM

SOUTH DEERFIELD — It’s been a year since Matthew Burns has been to work.

But he hasn’t been on vacation. He’s been in mourning.

Burns’ 23-year-old daughter, Meaghan, was one of three Navy corpsmen killed at a 7-Eleven convenience store in Portsmouth, Virginia, in a double homicide and suicide on May 4, 2019. Matthew Burns, his wife, Carolyn, and youngest daughter, Kyleigh Rose, have spent 12 months getting through their first holidays and birthday without Meaghan and had been bracing for the one-year anniversary of her death.

“It’s just incredible sadness,” Matthews Burns said last week. “Some days, it’s like the first day, and other days are not as bad. But there are no good days.”

He has been employed as an emergency room physician assistant at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield for about 18 years, but the nature of the job carries too much potential for emotional triggers when coupled with the way his daughter died. Carolyn has returned to her job as a speech therapist for the Union 38 School District, though she has been working from home recently after the state temporarily closed schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a stressful time,” Matthew Burns said.

He said his family has no special plans for today, but he hopes to go for a hike if the weather permits.

“It helps when the weather’s nice and you can get outside,” he said. “It’s hard on the dark, cold, rainy days.”

Meaghan’s friend, Shianne Taylor Soles, 19, of Veradale, Washington, was also killed by Donovan Moora, 22, of New York. Meaghan, a 2013 graduate of Frontier Regional School, and her friend were stationed at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth. Moora, Soles’ ex-boyfriend, was stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and was reportedly abusive.

When he spoke with the Greenfield Recorder toward the end of 2019, Matthew Burns expressed frustration with the bureaucracy that has enveloped the investigation. He spent months requesting official reports so he could learn more details. He has received nothing from the Portsmouth Police Department, though he got a 120-page report from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service last week. But he said it probably raises more questions than it answers. Burns, a former U.S. Navy corpsman himself, said Moora likely should not have been allowed into the military for mental health reasons. He said Moora has a license to carry in North Carolina and purchased a gun in Texas.

Burns said former Hampden District Attorney William M. Bennett, an old family friend, has agreed to help find out more facts of the case.

Worst news imaginable

Matthew Burns had recently gotten home from an annual Cape Cod golf trip with his brother and some friends when a Navy casualty assistance officer pulled up to the house with two Deerfield Police officers on May 5.

“She asked if I was the father of Meaghan Burns and said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you this but she’s been shot and is deceased,’” Burns recounted, adding that the casualty assistance officer also said, “I don’t have any more information. You can probably get more information from the news media.”

Burns said his wife soon returned from a trip to a farm stand and the officers stayed at the home for about 20 minutes.

“The first person I called was my brother, so he could tell his family,” Burns said, getting choked up. “They wouldn’t believe me.”

Burns said a neighbor volunteered to pick up Kyleigh Rose from Simmons University in Boston.

The Burns family was frustrated with the inexperience, unpreparedness and callousness of the casualty assistance officer (who was on her first case) and was eventually assigned a new one, who Burns said is much better.

Final ‘I love yous’

Burns said he and “Meggy,” as he affectionately calls her, exchanged text messages two hours before she was killed. Meagan said she was going to watch a movie and go to sleep. Burns texted his daughter good night and said he loved her, with Meaghan replying that she loved him more.

“I said, ‘You couldn’t possibly love me more,’” Burns recalled. “And she said, ‘Yes, I do. I’ve loved you 100 percent of my life, and you didn’t start loving me until you were 35, when I was born.’”

Burns explained his daughter then went with Soles to a restaurant so Soles could give Moora some of his belongings. They were killed shortly before 11:30 p.m.

Meaghan had recently agreed to marry her boyfriend, James, a fellow U.S. Navy corpsman she met when they were stationed in Italy.

Remembering Meaghan

The Navy flew Meaghan’s body to Bradley International Airport in Connecticut, where she received a military escort to Wrisley Funeral Home in South Deerfield on May 14. Hundreds of people — many holding American flags — stood quietly on the town common as the escort made its way through and Matthew said people with banners and flags lined every overpass between Hartford and Deerfield. Meaghan was cremated and her father carries a small amount of her ashes in a cremation necklace he wears.

Matthew Burns, 58, said his wife now drives Meaghan’s Chevy Cruze hatchback, which features Gold Star Family license plates. Meaghan was active-duty military when she was killed.

“She wasn’t on duty, but she was doing her job,” Burns previously said. “And she loved helping people.”

Last week, Burns told the Greenfield Recorder his family still has four big boxes of Meaghan’s belongings they have yet to unpack, though there are some memorials to her throughout the home.

“We have an urn. A ton of pictures. Every now and then we watch old videos, but it’s hard,” he said. “It’s hard to hear her laugh. She was funny as hell, though.”

The Burns family has gotten great support from the Military Friends Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization run by Sarah Sweeney. The foundation paid for the air travel and lodging of 20 of Meaghan’s friends and co-workers so they could attend her celebration of life, which the Navy would not pay for.

Burns said the community has been incredibly supportive and his family is looking forward to summer, with the potential of getting back to the beach, like on Nantucket, where the family went frequently when Meaghan and Kylie Rose, 20, were growing up. The family also got a German shepherd puppy, Ivy, from Maine in January, and Burns, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder over the summer, is considering getting her trained as a service animal.



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