© UnknownU.S. Marines in Okianawa, Japan, where both Island soldiers were stationed.
New Brighton natives Duane Robert Liburd Jr. and Hamson R. Daniels McPherson never knew each other.

But the two young men wound up in the same place a half-world away -- as U.S. Marines stationed on the Japanese island of Okinawa.

And in a tragic coincidence, Liburd, 22, and Daniels McPherson, 21, both met their deaths on that Pacific island under mysterious circumstances about two months ago and within weeks of each other.

Liburd's family was told he drowned on May 14, while swimming off a beach near his barracks.

Daniels McPherson's father said the Marine Corps told him the former defensive end for the Curtis High School football team doused himself with gasoline on May 1 and set himself ablaze. He died 19 days later in a burn unit in San Antonio, Texas, where he had been transferred.
The Marine Corps' explanation of how their sons died have left the two men's kin with far more questions than answers.

And as the Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS) probes the circumstances surrounding the deaths, both families are struggling to cope with the heart-searing loss of two vibrant young men heading into the prime of their lives.

"It doesn't make sense to nobody. A young man, 21 years old. No wife. No kids. No one's going to believe it," said Daniels McPherson's father, New Brighton resident Hamson McPherson, in a recent telephone interview. "He was a bright, intelligent young man with a bright future. I'm sick to my stomach. I haven't been well [since he died]. I don't eat or sleep well."

The more I think about it the less sense it makes that he would have been swimming that night," said Liburd's mother, Andrea Williams, who lives in East Stroudsburg, Pa., where her son graduated from high school in 2006.

Ms. Williams said the Marine Corps said her son, a lance corporal, drowned while swimming by himself.

She was told he had left the barracks after 7 p.m. and went to a nearby beach, something Ms. Williams was informed he did regularly. Ms. Williams said she was told that two other Marines saw him in the water and one Marine entered the water and told her son to come in, but he did not.

Conversely, Ms. Williams said her son wasn't a swimmer, to her knowledge. And some of her son's friends told her he wasn't the type of person who would go for a swim by himself, she said.

In an e-mail, a Marine Corps spokesman advised the NCIS is investigating Liburd and Daniels McPherson's deaths.

"As a matter of policy, we can not speculate on the results of that investigation. The Marine Corps takes seriously any incident involving injury or death to its service members and routinely investigates these instances in order to prevent further incidents," the spokesman wrote and referred all further inquiries to NCIS.

According to its Web site, NCIS is the federal law enforcement agency that probes felony-level offenses affecting the Navy and Marine Corps -- that is, crimes punishable by confinement for more than one year.

NCIS also investigates and performs operations to identify and neutralize foreign intelligence, international terrorist, and cyber threats to the Department of the Navy. In addition, it supports U.S. naval forces around the world.

Ed Buice, an NCIS spokesman said the probes are continuing.

Buice confirmed the information that both families said the Marines provided them about the two men's deaths.

He said an autopsy determined that Liburd had drowned. Two Marines saw the lance corporal swimming in the water and one tried to reach him, but was unable to, said Buice.

The spokesman said two people witnessed the incident involving Private Daniels McPherson -- a Japanese security guard and an off-duty military police officer. The military cop rushed to Daniels McPherson's aid, and was able to get him to "stop, drop and roll into a puddle of water;" however, about 90 percent of McPherson's body was burned, said Buice.

"In the majority of death investigations WHAT happened is often much simpler to determine than WHY it happened," Buice wrote last week in an e-mail to the Advance. "Our investigations seek to resolve those questions to the extent possible -- for all concerned, including family members. To protect the integrity of the ongoing investigations we do not discuss in detail what we've learned -- even with the family -- until the investigation is concluded."

Both McPherson and Ms. Williams said they are awaiting reports from NCIS.

The two Marines' parents said they were each exemplary young men who joined the armed forced to serve their country.

"He loved the Marines. That's why he went in," McPherson said of his son.

McPherson said his son, who maintained an 85 average at Curtis, never complained of any problems with the Marines. He had been stationed in Okinawa for three years.

Liburd, who joined the Marines in 2008, was married for two years. He was active in his church and enjoyed playing video games, writing music and rapping.

Besides serving his country, his other goals in enlisting were to travel the world and develop into an honorable man, his family said.

"I'm just waiting to see what they have to say," his mother said, referring to NCIS. "The whole thing doesn't make any sense."