The Marine Corps Recruit Depot at South Carolina's Parris Island hosts nearly 20,000 recruits each year for 12 weeks of basic training. Alex French looks into the journey of one recruit, Raheel Siddiqui, for Esquire's March issue, exploring the 20-year-old Muslim's likely first moments at the depot in March 2016—and trying to figure out his last moments just two weeks later. The official Marine line: Siddiqui died after leaping from the third story of his barracks, though Siddiqui's parents maintain he wouldn't have killed himself, and French notes evidence pointing to the young man's demise as part of a "hazing scandal unlike anything Parris Island has endured since the 1950s." Siddiqui, who'd been valedictorian of his high school class in Michigan and been accepted to the University of Michigan on a full ride, wanted to work for the FBI, and the Marines seemed the fastest way to achieve that.
But his mom was wary, and a Siddiqui family attorney thought him "naive" for thinking his Muslim background a non-issue. And another trainee who'd served a few months earlier has told other outlets about physical and mental abuse doled out by drill instructors (DIs), including one DI who tormented a Muslim recruit named Ahmed. Tight-lipped officials and heavily redacted reports from Parris Island have made it hard to cull what happened to Siddiqui: He reportedly threatened to kill himself just six days into his stay, but other evidence shows recruits in his platoon had suffered extreme physical abuse and that Siddiqui had been called a terrorist by a DI. Siddiqui's autopsy also showed he had injuries not from his fall—including bondage marks and signs of strangulation. "This boy didn't jump. He was killed," his family's lawyer says. More on the mystery at Esquire. (Could an American be second in command for ISIS?)