Gold Star Mother: Romney Skipped Funeral, Left "Bullying" Messages

A memorial to Marine Lance Corporal Nickolas Schiavoni, made for his mother Stephany Kern by a casualty officer, at her home in Westerly, Rhode Island.

[Updated: See below for Romney response to Huffington Post]

Appearing on ABC’s The View this past Thursday, Ann Romney claimed that her husband, as governor of Massachusetts, “went to every funeral” of fallen soldiers from the Commonwealth. She spoke of the difficult role he had “to comfort those that have lost a loved one and have gone in harm’s way.”

But Mitt Romney did not attend every soldier’s funeral; there were at least two cases where he did not.

And in one of those cases, a Gold Star mother claims that, far from comforting, Romney left insensitive phone messages – messages that she calls “bullying” and her husband describes as “abusive.”

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“I can’t believe you haven’t returned my call,” Romney said on one of the voice mail messages, according to Stephany Kern, speaking at her Westerly, Rhode Island home this past Saturday. “Here I am making a second call; I haven’t heard from you.”

Kern did not save the messages. This is the first time she has spoken publicly about them.

Kern’s son, Marine Lance Corporal Nickolas Schiavoni, was killed by an IED explosion in Iraq on November 15, 2005. He was born and lived his entire life in the Haverhill, Massachusetts, area, and his funeral took place in Haverhill on November 26. His grandfather, David Swartz -- Kern's father -- was a well-known attorney, prosecutor, and city councilor in that city.

Romney did not attend the wake or funeral, according to reports from the time. The Phoenix has been unable to confirm Kern’s claim that no representative of the governor attended the wake or funeral. The Romney campaign has not responded to inquiries.

The Phoenix could find no record of Romney’s whereabouts on the day of the funeral, which took place on the Saturday two days after Thanksgiving. Romney had been in Boston earlier in the week. The following Tuesday, Romney flew to California for the Republican Governors Association annual meeting. Kern says that in the third message he left, Romney mentioned being at the Governors meeting.

Schiavoni, who had previously earned a Purple Heart, died on a mission to rescue other soldiers near Al Karmah. He was driving when a rigged vehicle on the road exploded, doing so much damage that Marines had to return to the site later, to recover pieces of his body before he was flown home.

Mrs. Kern says that many officials, including Romney and Senators John Kerry and Ted Kennedy, left messages for her the day after her son died. She felt unable to speak to anyone in those initial days. “I didn’t listen to any of the calls,” she says.

Only Romney, she says, complained in a second message that she had not called back.

“He was completely unable to understand that a mom was not going to return his phone call, and that it wasn’t a priority for me,” she says. “I wasn’t being disrespectful. I was being a mom who was greeting the casket of her son coming home from war.”

She says that Senators Kennedy and Kerry called other family members to ask when it would be appropriate to contact her again. Both sent representatives to the funeral. Kennedy left a follow-up message to say that a mass would be sent for Shiavoni in Hyannisport, with Kennedy family members in attendance.

It was around the time of that Kennedy message, she says, when "I got the [second] phone call from Governor Romney, who could not believe -- could not believe -- that I hadn't returned his phone call. It was shocking to me.... And I think that just bypassed me until I got the third phone call. The third phone call was outrageous."

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Steve Kern, who has been married to Stephany Kern since prior to Schiavoni enlisting in 2002, says that he heard Romney’s second and third messages.

He recalls Romney saying in one: “I’m a busy man.” He describes Romney’s tone as “disrespectful,” “antagonistic,” and “absolutely inappropriate to use on a Gold Star mother.”

Some weeks later, Kern says, someone from Romney's office called her to say that Romney intended to visit Sciavoni's gravesite. Kern asked that he not do so if he intended to have his photograph taken there; she does not know whether Romney visited or not.

Schiavoni’s widow, who is remarried and living in Texas; could not be reached for comment. Neither could Schiavoni’s father, who still lives in Massachusetts.


Huffington Post reports that Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg refutes Kern's account of the phone messages (although not the claim that he sent no representative to the funeral):

 "Anyone who knows Governor Romney understands he would never treat or address anyone in the way described," Henneberg said in an email to The Huffington Post. "The Governor honors the commitment made by every brave American who wears our nation’s uniform as well as the sacrifices made by their loved ones. He honored this fallen Marine by naming Nov. 26th Nicky Schiavoni Day."

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