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Bill to remove killer from national cemetery passes House

Fort Wayne couple worked with Sen. Coats after daughter-in-law's death

Thursday, December 12, 2013 - 8:03 am

A Fort Wayne couple’s attempt to have the killer of their daughter-in-law removed from a national cemetery in Michigan has cleared another important hurdle.

The U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday passed the Alicia Dawn Koehl Respect for National Cemeteries Act, which earlier had been passed by the Senate after introduction by Dan Coats, R-Ind. Coats’ office says it has no reason to believe President Obama will not sign the bill, which would give the Department of Veterans Affairs authority to remove Michael Anderson from the Fort Custer National Cemetery near Battle Creek.

As The News-Sentinel reported in October 2012, 45-year-old Alicia Koehl was shot and killed by Anderson while working at an Indianapolis apartment office. Anderson shot himself after police arrived and was buried in the national cemetery despite a federal law that bars people who have committed capital crimes from receiving such an honor. Koehl’s husband, Paul, was from Fort Wayne, and her parents-in-law, Frank and Carol Koehl, and sister-in-law Becky Moher, live here.

After unsuccessfully seeking Anderson’s disinterment from the VA, the Koehls approached Coats and Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., for help, and similar legislation was later introduced in the House by Susan Brooks, R-Ind.

“It’s exactly what we were asking for, and we’re deeply appreciative, but what (the Veterans Administration) did was illegal in the first place,” Frank Koehl said after the legislation was introduced “It’s just a shame the VA wouldn’t do the right thing.”

“After more than a year of working with the Koehl family and the Department of Veterans Affairs, we are one step closer to seeing this legislation become law,” Coats said in a statement. “This bill protects the integrity of our national cemeteries, enforces current law and ensures that the families of our veterans can bury their loved ones among heroes. I truly wish this legislation was not needed and the tragic situation that devastated a Hoosier family and left two children without their loving mother never occurred. I urge the president to sign this bill into law, protect our national cemeteries and allow Alicia’s concern for others to be her lasting legacy.”

Paul Koehl said in a statement that, “Through this positive step, at least in some small measure, Alicia’s death will not have been in vain but instead, an instrument for justice and peace for our family as well as the families of future victims.”