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It's not just service men and women traumatized by Military Sexual Assault. Their families, too, pay the price



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Kim Wells, right, with her young son and her husband before his murder. - COURTESY OF IAN BOYER
  • Kim Wells, right, with her young son and her husband before his murder.

Wells joined the U.S. Army after a troubled childhood in Elgin, Illinois, and Belleville. She looked back with pride on her brief military career, her son says. But it was cut short by the worst event in her life: She was raped by a sergeant assigned to her training unit at Fort Devens, Massachusetts.

The rape presaged a life of deep troubles. Her first marriage, which began shortly after she enlisted in the Army in the early 1970s, ended in divorce after years of alcohol and drug abuse. Her second marriage ended with her husband's murder outside that nightclub in East St. Louis.

Wells suffered from bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. She lived with chronic insomnia, was estranged from the children of her first marriage and exercised often chaotic judgment with her money and the choices of people in her life.

Wells had made a series of benefit claims with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The claims included hearing loss, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder — all of which the VA paid on, according to records I reviewed.

But one claim, for military sexual trauma, or MST, mattered more to her than all the others. That claim centered on the events of one night in October 1974.

After graduating from Belleville Township High School, Wells was eager to begin her military career. After completing Army basic training, she had just arrived at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, located a little over an hour northwest of Boston.

A sergeant assigned to her training company agreed to escort her around the base. She had no reason to feel afraid, because one of the first things she learned in basic training was to trust her fellow soldiers, particularly officers. From the first day of basic training, it was pounded into their heads to place complete confidence in the career sergeants who controlled seemingly every hour of the new recruit's day.

The sergeant guided the car to a deserted air strip. He came to a stop and cut the engine. Then, very calmly, he placed a folding knife on the dashboard.

"'Don't move,'" the sergeant said, according to Wells.

Then he raped her.

The sergeant ordered her not to tell anyone about the rape. Then he dropped her off at her barracks.

"I felt so dirty, so guilty," she would tell me six months before her death, in what would turn out to be her final interview.

Wells recalled spending three hours in the barracks' shower after the rape because she felt too numb to move.

Wells was sent to Fort Devens to learn how to become a Morse Code interceptor. But her classroom problems proved overwhelming because of the emotional trauma resulting from the rape.

"I flunked out of the school because of the assault," she said. "I couldn't concentrate. I started drinking to numb myself out."

One of the hardest parts of dealing with her rape unfolded in the decades that followed, when she would look in the mirror and think of her rapist.

"It bugs the hell out of me. Because now, when I look in the mirror, I'm getting older," she said in that final interview. "To me, he's always going to be in his twenties."

Ian Boyer, now twenty, lost his father to murder and his mother to a heart attack. - STL-PHOTO
  • Ian Boyer, now twenty, lost his father to murder and his mother to a heart attack.

Ian Boyer never knew his father, Mike, who was murdered when he was just a toddler. As he grew up, his mother tried to keep his father's memory alive.

But growing up without a dad, and in the shadow of his mother's erratic behavior, Boyer often felt perplexed.

"When I was a little kid I was always confused," Boyer says. "How she was acting wasn't usual for somebody. We never really had much conversation about it...How I handled it was, I just kept telling myself things are going to turn out better."

Boyer attended a vocational school in Fairview Heights to prepare for a job in computer networking. His mother's VA benefits helped pay his tuition.

Boyer thinks a lot about the good memories that bonded him with his mother. Many of those memories revolve around his junior year at Belleville West, when, thanks to his natural size — six feet, four inches; 275 pounds — he played offensive lineman on the varsity team.

Football allowed a relief valve for the stress and anger of never knowing his slain father, even while his mother suffered from severe emotional problems. "How I express my anger is that anything bad that happens, I build it up inside me... to where I hit harder, I run faster, I'm an-all-out beast... it builds up, it builds up, and just explodes."

For Wells, watching her son play football provided a ray of hope; it opened a doorway to a better world. Midway through his junior year, in the fall of 2014, Wells couldn't conceal her immense pride over her son's athletic success.

"It was wonderful," she said. "It's made me feel good. It's made him feel good. His character has improved. It's just wonderful." Not two years later, she died. Ian Boyer became an orphan at nineteen.


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