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Cease and desist: Funeral on hold for Marine who drowned on his wedding day as family fights over his remains

The funeral home managing the remains of a Marine master sergeant who died on his wedding day has agreed to obey a cease and desist letter sent by a lawyer representing the Marine’s new wife.

Marine Master Sgt. Jeff Briar drowned the evening of Sept. 22 attempting to save two children caught in an ocean rip current near San Diego. It also was his wedding day.

Now, a disagreement over what will happen to the Marine’s remains and who is in charge of the decision has put his cemetery burial on hold. Briar’s parents had requested that the Corps bury him in a national cemetery, while Jennifer Crowley insists that she and Briar were married and that her husband’s final wishes were to be cremated.

After it was determined that Briar was not eligible to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, he was scheduled to be buried at Quantico National Cemetery in Virginia on Wednesday.

The funeral home has agreed to hold the body until a Virginia court rules on who can decide what happens to Briar or a written agreement is made between Crowley and the Marine’s parents, Toni O’Neill, a retired Air Force judge advocate general officer with Patriots Law Group who is representing Jennifer Crowley, told Marine Corps Times Tuesday.

The Marine Corps confirmed that the funeral is on hold.

A memorial ceremony was held for Briar at Arlington National Cemetery on Nov. 12. Both of Briar’s parents as well as Crowley attended the Arlington ceremony and were recipients of an American flag.

Closest living relative

The Marine master sergeant had married Jennifer Crowley on the San Diego beach on Sept. 22, Crowley told Marine Corps Times in a Sunday phone interview.

It was not long after that he left this Earth.

However, Jeff Briar’s mother, Debbie Robinson, previously said that the ceremony was not a wedding but something closer to a promise ceremony, emphasizing that the couple did not have a marriage license, she told Marine Corps Times in an Oct. 2 phone interview.

Crowley confirmed the couple did not have a marriage license at the time of the ceremony because Briar could not take time off from his unit ― Headquarters Battalion, Tactical Training Exercise Control Group in Twentynine Palms, California ― in time to make their appointment with the court.

But she insisted even without the license both she and Briar were married after the September ceremony.

“We had discussed wanting something bigger,” Crowley told Marine Corps Times. “But the Marine Corps was getting in the way."

She said what took place “was our ceremony. We had our witnesses; we had our ordained minister.”

Crowley ultimately received a court-ordered marriage license after Briar’s death, confirming that the couple were married.

But the Marine Corps assigned Briar’s father as the person authorized to direct disposition, known as a PADD, immediately after Jeff Briar’s death because he was the closest living relative on record, a Marine Corps spokesman said.

A casualty assistance officer sat down with the master sergeant’s father three days after his son’s death, filing paperwork and the request that Briar be buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, Maj. Craig Thomas, a Marine Corps spokesman said in an email to Marine Corps Times.

At the time Crowley did not have the marriage license necessary to make her claim to become the PADD.

Since then, Crowley has sent the license to the Corps, but it is still being processed, Thomas said.

If validated, the Corps will recognize her as a dependent spouse, enter her into the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System and reimburse her for travel expenses she incurred attending the funeral services, Thomas said. But the Corps does not plan on appointing Crowley as the PADD, even if the license is accepted.

Robinson did not wish to comment.

Final wishes

The Marine Corps “knows that the state of California recognizes them as legally married ... but they are refusing to change it,” Toni O’Neill, a retired Air Force judge advocate general officer with Patriots Law Group who represents Jennifer Crowley, said in a phone call Wednesday night.

What her client is asking puts the Marine Corps in an awkward position, O’Neill said ― going back to grieving parents who originally were told they could decide how their son’s body will be laid to rest.

“I understand it’s uncomfortable and that nobody wants to do it,” she said, "but that’s the right thing to do.

Crowley said she discussed cremation with Briar after they attended a friend’s funeral.

“We talked about it and we both said we wanted to be cremated,” Crowley said. She added that they planned to have their ashes collected into the same urn so they could spend the rest of time together.

In a last minute attempt to stop the burial, O’Neill sent a cease and desist letter to the funeral home currently taking care of Briar’s body, telling them not to release the body to anyone but Crowley without her consent.

“We’re happy that the funeral home was willing to take her wishes into consideration and will let the courts decide who has the authority,” O’Neill said.

Crowley said the process has been hard, but she will stop at nothing to do what she feels is right.

“It has been a nightmare, but it’s worth it," she said. “I will walk to the ends of the earth to do whatever it takes to make sure my husband’s wishes are carried out.”

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