Missing soldier found dead in Camp Blanding woods, deputies say

Specialist missing since Wednesday didn't return from survival exercise

By Corley Peel - Reporter, Jim Piggott - Reporter, Chris Parenteau - Reporter

BRADFORD COUNTY, Fla. - An Alabama Army Reserve soldier reported missing Wednesday morning at Camp Blanding was found dead Friday, according to the Clay County Sheriff's Office.

Investigators said Spc. Cayln McLemore's body was found in a wooded area and his death was undetermined. The Sheriff's Office would reveal no further details, saying it was still an active investigation into how the 25-year-old died.

Soldier's family reacts to word of his death

McLemore's family lives in Tennessee but headed to Florida to find out what caused his death.

"Come to find out he had a cellphone the whole time but didn't use that cellphone," said his cousin, Shannon Mayes.

"They told me my brother is dead, but they didn't tell us what happened. They found his body," McLemore's sister said.

Family members told a Memphis television station that they believe there's more to their loved one's death than they're being told.

"They're not telling us nothing. They make it seem as if they interacted with us or like they talking to us," Mayes said. "They're not telling us anything. We are finding this stuff out on our own. We are doing our own research. There's something else more than what they're telling us."

McLemore's mom said he mainly stayed to himself, but he worked hard and loved his family. She said she can bottle up her emotions right now.

"That's what I have to do, because I have other children that are watching me, and whatever I show them is what they're going to follow," she said.

The investigation into the exact cause of McLemore's death is still ongoing.

Multi-agency search for soldier

The search continued throughout the day Friday. Investigators said McLemore got off course Wednesday during a survival training exercise at the Camp Blanding Joint Training Center in Clay County.

Despite the efforts of hundreds of searchers, no contact had been made with McLemore as of 5 p.m. Friday, Sgt. Keith Smith, with the Clay County Sheriff's Office, said during a news briefing. 

McLemore was participating in a 25-day leadership training course at Camp Blanding and was sent out Wednesday morning with dozens of classmates for a land navigation assignment, deputies said.

The exercise, which involves individual soldiers finding rally points in the woods before returning to a designated location, should only have taken a couple of hours, investigators said. McLemore and the other soldiers were each given an MRE (meal ready to eat), a canteen of water and a map to help find their specific rally points.

When McLemore didn't return from the exercise in a timely manner, military searchers tried to find him.

Smith said the instructors who run the course told deputies that soldiers sometimes do not return on time but are always found quickly, within 30 minutes to an hour.

They called in the Sheriff's Office on Thursday after they failed to find McLemore, and the Sheriff's Office brought in resources from multiple local agencies to assist in the search.

Smith said some of McLemore's gear -- but not his canteen -- was found, which helped to concentrate the search. He said the gear that was found included McLemore's paperwork and the navigation square meant to help him find his rally points. It was found far from the area of his checkpoints, so he likely got off course, Smith said.

“If you're dehydrating and facing those types of things, you're going to get off course a little bit," Smith said. "We all know, living down here with the extreme heat, that the conditions are very tough these last couple of days."

A liaison kept McLemore's mother, who lives in Memphis, Tennessee, updated on the search.

Smith said the 1,000 acres where they concentrated the search was thick swampland, and searchers encountered wildlife, including dangerous water moccasins. The search continued around the clock, with crews rotating because of the extreme heat and difficult terrain, which included waist- to chest-deep water.

"We searched all day. We covered a very large area out there," Smith said at 5 p.m. Friday. "A couple of medical evacuations we had to do to today to get the guys re-energized with IVs."

The search utilized three helicopters, K-9 units, mounted patrols and all-terrain vehicles.

The Sheriff's Office received assistance from several agencies, including the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, the Pasco County Emergency Management, the Baker County Sheriff’s Office and the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, to name a few.

The combination of the units totaled more than 450 men and women deployed to assist with the search for McLemore.

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