The Cape Lookout National Seashore is a picturesque retreat off the North Carolina coast.

It’s a 56-mile stretch of islands reachable only by boat. It’s known for its wild horses and stunning vistas.

But in 2020 it became the scene of a homicide.

Enrique Roman-Martinez was a paratrooper of the elite 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg, which was recently renamed Fort Liberty. 

His sister, Griselda, said he was a fan of good food and video games. She also said he had a big heart.

“He was just all around a very good kid … very, very shy,” Griselda Martinez said. "He was just really generous. He really cared about his friends and family." 

He was 17 when his mom signed the papers, at his urging, letting him join the military. 

Martinez said he loved his first two years in the military but then something changed. 

"He would never tell me they were bullying him. He would just tell me that there was just a lot of things he didn’t like. ... He would tell me he just wanted to come home,” Martinez said. "I wanted to guide him the best way I could as an older sister and tell him he started it, he needed to stick it out and do his absolute best even to the very end even though he was miserable.” 


Mysterious death

In May 2020, Roman-Martinez and a group of seven Fort Liberty soldiers were camping on the Cape Lookout National Seashore. A few days into the trip a member of the group called 911 saying Roman-Martinez had gone missing.

“We lost our friend. We don’t know where he has gone. We are kind of worried something happened to him,” the caller told the 911 operator.

The caller said they went to bed around midnight, but when they woke up, he said Roman-Martinez was gone.

Records show that 911 call was made hours later in the evening.

The U.S. Army said Roman-Martinez’s phone, wallet and glasses were at the campsite. 

While the call sparked police to conduct a search, it wasn’t until a week later when, a few miles away, his head washed ashore. No other remains were found then or since.

The caller alleged Roman-Martinez previously had suicidal tendencies, but Martinez said that wasn’t true.

Lawmaker gets involved

The gruesomeness of Roman-Martinez’s death sent shockwaves locally and around the country. The outrage quickly turned to the Army’s handling of the case.

"I don’t think they did a good job at all,” Martinez said. "Instead of treating it as, you know, someone who has gotten hurt, murdered, they treated it as he ran away, and he didn’t run away."

Rep. Norma Torres represents the Los Angeles suburb where Roman-Martinez’s family lives. She’s the mom of a veteran, and she’s also a former 911 operator.

She said there was poor communication between local law enforcement and the Army, which she said hurt the investigation.

She was also worried about the quietness involving the investigation.

"The silence from everybody. The silence from his friends, to the staff at the base that failed to reach out to the family. To the local law enforcement that did not have the know-how to investigate this missing person and time went by. It took an act of a member of Congress to get divers out there,” Torres said.

In September 2021, a year-and-a-half after Roman-Martinez’s remains were found, the Army labeled the unsolved homicide a cold case.

Torres said she was surprised when she learned the Army didn’t have a centralized cold case unit.

“It was unbelievable that we are the United States of America, that we had paid so little attention to murders here at home where our soldiers are the victims in the communities they are sent to,” Torres said.

The Army said the cases weren’t ignored, it’s just that efforts weren’t centralized.

Inside new cold case unit

In 2022, the Army created a centralized cold case unit. 

Since its creation, the special agents tell Spectrum News they’ve been poring through the Army’s records, although the digital inventory dates back only to 1987.

So far they’ve identified several dozen cold cases, and that number is likely to grow. The Army said they are currently researching cases dating back to the 1970s.

But the special agents said it’s been a challenge tracking down all the information on old cases.

“We’ve come across missing documents, evidence that was destroyed, key witnesses that have deceased. These are all things that we know are part of the job and are challenges that we just have to overcome, and do what we can with what we have,” said Special Agent Jessica Veltri, a member of the Army’s cold case unit.

Torres helped pass legislation that provided millions of dollars for training and instructed the Army to improve the communication and handling around homicide cases. She said that had been lacking in Roman-Martinez’s investigation.

The Army’s special agents tell Spectrum News the training and new unit give a fresh set of eyes to stalled cases.

“The legislation just sort of helped formalize and add legitimacy to it. Allowing us to have this dedicated unit gave us continuity in our contacts. We formed partnerships with other agencies that may have been more challenging if we were working in a ad hoc fashion,” Veltri said.

And they have had success. The unit helped solve a 40-year-old case out of California where a former soldier was charged with the murder of a 5-year-old named Anne Sang Thi Pahm. The unit assisted the Seaside police, Monterey County District Attorney’s Office and the Cold Case Task Force.

“[Our] goal is to solve every unsolved homicide that the Army has,” said Special Agent Chris Adams of the Army’s cold case unit. “That’s the goal.”

Martinez said she’s hopeful.

“I really hope that they are going to do a good job. I really hope that this isn’t to manage me and to try and get me to calm down, because that’s not what I want,” Martinez said.

Where Roman-Martinez's case stands

All of the soldiers Roman-Martinez was with on the camping trip in 2020 are now no longer in the Army after finishing their enlistment periods.

They were all charged with crimes, from providing a false statement to wrongfully using a controlled substance, but no one was charged with homicide.

While Roman-Martinez’s death sparked change in Washington and in the Army, not one has been charged in his death.

The hope is the changes will help solve his case and others.

But his family is left waiting as his mysterious death clouds the Cape Lookout National Seashore.

The family of Roman-Martinez recently filed a lawsuit against the Army for its handling of the investigation into his death.

The Army is offering a $50,000 reward for credible information concerning the circumstances surrounding Roman-Martinez's death.

Authorities ask anyone with information about this incident to contact the Army CID Carolinas Field Office at (910) 391-4911 or leave an anonymous tip through the Army CID online form here