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Recent MU graduate, Marine Corps veteran passes over winter break

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Justin Owen, a 2010 graduate of the College of Communication, stands with an Iraqi police officer on a joint security patrol in Habbaniyah, a town just outside Fallujah.

Over the holiday break, the Marquette community lost a decorated member, as Justin Owen — a 2010 graduate and platoon leader in the Iraq War — was declared dead on Christmas Day.

The determined cause of death was suicide, according to a letter sent to Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism students by dean and professor John Lavine. Owen had just completed his first semester at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern.

More than 100 people attended a service held for Owen on Dec. 30 in Milwaukee, according to a Jan. 4 report by the Tribune.

At the service, Owen was lauded by his commanding officer Guillermo Rosales, Jr. as “polite, smiling and a natural leader.”

Josh Buege, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, trained and served with Owen in Iraq in 2007-’08 and said he had become better acquainted with Owen after their return from overseas.

“He was just a good guy,” Buege said. “He had a goal. He knew where he was headed in life.”

Buege also described Owen as a “model Marine” and said he was “blindsided” by the news.

“I thought he would be the last one to go,” Buege said.

Tom Owen, Justin’s father, told The Daily Northwestern that there was “some evidence” that his son may have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

PTSD is a trauma-related anxiety disorder that affects an estimated 11 to 20 percent of U.S. veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to the National Center for PTSD.

John Zemler, a visiting assistant professor of theology  and expert on healing PTSD from spiritual resources, said in an e-mail that from his “personal experience working with trauma survivors, PTSD symptoms are harshest between Thanksgiving and early January.”

In November 2009, the Tribune ran a feature article on Owen and his experience in Iraq. According to the report, Owen’s platoon had the primary objectives of peacekeeping and supporting the Iraq police.

In the article, Owen said that he and the platoon were all hit hard by the deaths of two of their members whose Humvee hit a roadside bomb.

Owen also had said it took him some time to get used to being surrounded by people in an urban environment like Milwaukee. Walking on campus surrounded by people is a lot different than the sparsely populated landscapes of rural Iraq, Owen said.

Owen, a native of Shorewood, Wis., graduated from Shorewood High School in 2004 before attending Norwich University in Northfield, Vt. He transferred to Marquette after his junior year at Norwich.

He is survived by his parents, Thomas and Rebecca Owen, and two brothers, Nicholas and Thomas John. Medill has created The Justin Owen Memorial Fund in his honor to help graduate students with financial need.

Tony DiZinno contributed to this report.

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