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Family: Sailor stepson of firefighter Juston Doherty initially denied leave for funeral

Posted at 5:04 PM, Jul 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-13 11:30:33-04

Marissa Whitmire knew getting her husband, Colton Whitmire, back home for his stepfather's funeral would be a fight.

When Marissa was having serious pregnancy complications with the couple's first child just two months ago, she said the Navy would not allow him to leave. He's currently serving in the middle east.

"By the time the message got to the ship and got relayed, I was being induced, and the problem was being fixed, so they said you don't have to come home the problem's being fixed," Marissa said.

Then on Saturday when Marissa found out Colton's stepfather, Juston Doherty died unexpectedly, she knew the Navy wouldn't just give Colton the leave he needed to grieve. Juston wasn't listed as next of kin. 

"He got the answer as a no," she said.

Marissa said Juston raised Colton from the time he was in first grade. It's the only dad he's known for most of his life. Even when Juston and Colton's mom divorced, Juston was still his father-figure. Juston was there for his wedding and even for the birth of his baby when Colton couldn't be there.

"Juston was so excited about Bodhi," Marissa said. "He was so excited to be a grandpa. He was so proud of him."

Marissa, along with Colton's family, took the issue to Arizona lawmakers early this week. They sent a letter addressed to the Secretary of the Navy, signed by five members of Congress.

Then on Wednesday came word the Navy reversed course. Colton could fly home, but he'd have to pay for it. Marissa says this would've never happened if they didn't go to the right people.

"It's just so unfortunate to me," she said. "At what point is policy more important than a person's mental well-being?"

Colton arrives home on Friday. A bittersweet time as he meets his son, but lays his father to rest.

"It wasn't a typical stepfather, stepson relationship," she said. "Anyone who knew them knew how much Juston meant to Colton and how much Colton meant to Juston.

If you'd like to help pay for Colton's trip home, a crowdfunding page has been set up.

Funeral services for Doherty are scheduled for Tuesday ata west Valley church followed by a graveside service in Cave Creek. 

Christ’s Church of the Valley at 10 a.m.
7007 W Happy Valley Road
Peoria, AZ 85383

Procession of family, friends and community servants will then head to National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona at 2 p.m.