LANCASTER — The Lancaster man accused of beating a 5-year-old girl to death early Tuesday served in the U.S. Army for four years, climbing the ranks to sergeant and receiving a Purple Heart after suffering wounds while serving in Iraq for nearly a year, military officials confirmed on Thursday.
Deputies charged 27-year-old Phillip Bryan Gleason, a York Comprehensive High School graduate, with homicide by child abuse in connection with the death of Soren Victoria Chilson, who just turned 5 on Jan. 31. The charge is a felony carrying 20 years to life in prison upon conviction.
Gleason had been a student at Winthrop University studying political science. He was part of a Model United Nations class, where he was to represent the Philippines in an upcoming conference. A classmate told The Herald that he tried recruiting Gleason in a student veterans group, but Gleason never attended the meetings.
On Wednesday, Gleason, a second-semester freshman, was suspended from the university, said Rebecca Masters, university spokeswoman, and isn't allowed to return to campus unless he receives prior permission from the Campus Police.
From 2004 to 2008, he served with the U.S. Army, where he worked as an 11B infantryman, said Timothy Irvin with the U.S. Army Public Affairs Office. He received training at Fort Benning in Georgia before he was assigned to the 12th Infantry Regimen in Fort Hood, Ga.
He was deployed to Iraq from December 2005 to October 2006, when he was wounded in action, Irvin said.
Sarah Chilson-Cole, Soren Chilson's aunt, told The Herald that it appeared Gleason had a leg wound because he walked with a "definite limp."
Leaving the Army as a sergeant, Gleason received several awards during his time in the Army, including: a Purple Heart, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, Army Service Ribbon and Overseas Service Ribbon.
Army officials would not comment on circumstances surrounding Gleason's discharge.
At about 12:40 a.m. Tuesday, Gleason called police to report a problem with Soren. When deputies arrived, they found the girl unresponsive in the bathroom. Paramedics took her to Springs Memorial Hospital, where she died.
Authorities began to investigate the girls death after finding her injuries suspicious.
Preliminary autopsy results show that Soren apparently died from blunt force trauma to the head, Lancaster County Coroner Mike Morris said. Investigators gathered statements from Gleason, as well as physical evidence from the scene, according to an arrest warrant.
Police questioned Gleason, who was left alone with Soren while her mother went to work. By Tuesday evening, they had charged him with homicide by child abuse. On Wednesday, he appeared before a magistrate in a Lancaster County courtroom, where bond was denied.
Officials will not comment on what kind of head injuries Soren suffered or what object might have been used to hurt her. It's unclear if more charges or arrests might be pending.
Gleason had been dating Soren's mother, April Victoria Snipes, for at least six months, police and family members said.
The military will have no involvement in charging or punishing Gleason since he's "been released" from active duty, Irvin said. He also doesn't risk seeing his awards and commendations stripped.
Soren's funeral will be at 2 p.m. Friday at Antioch Baptist Church, with burial in the church cemetery.