Neighbors: Suspect In Afghan Attack Was Family Man
Filed by KOSU News in US News.
March 17, 2012
The U.S. soldier alleged to have killed 16 Afghan civilians on Sunday has been identified as Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, of Lake Tapps, Wash. Government officials leaked the name late Friday, after nearly a week of secrecy.
The Army has confirmed that Bales is now being held at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where he has a cell to himself. Bales’ home post is Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Seattle, and the people who know him there are shocked by the news.
Reporters swarmed a neighborhood in a rural, wooded community about 35 miles south of Seattle.
There’s no one home at the Bales house. The front porch is crammed with boxes and other odds and ends apparently left behind in a short-notice move. A realtor’s key locker hangs on the front door. Records show Bales and his wife bought the home in 2005. The house was put up for sale on Monday, the day after the news of the massacre half a world away.
Neighbors describe Bales as a family man. Paul Wohlberg, a next-door neighbor, tells The Associated Press that he was “just one of the guys.”
“My thought when I heard was I was blown away,” says Holland, whose father lives next door. “I was completely shocked. I never thought that he would do anything like that. Ever.”
Kassie Holland tells NPR’s Martin Kaste that she knows the Bales family well. She spends time here: children’s birthday parties, Fourth of July. She has nothing but good things to say about Bales.
“He was great … kind of the life of the party,” she says.
Bales’ record isn’t perfect. He’s had a couple brushes with the law. He completed 20 hours of anger-management counseling following a 2002 arrest for investigation of assault. The court docket shows that Bales pleaded not guilty, and the case was dismissed. In 2009, he was cited for running from the scene of a single-car accident.
Arriving At Detention Center
Bales has not yet been charged. He was flown from Kuwait and arrived Friday evening at a military detention center at Fort Leavenworth.
The Army said he was placed in his own cell, not a normal four-person bay. He will get time out of his cell for hygiene and recreational purposes and religious support, if he desires.
An Air Force cargo jet arrived at Kansas City International Airport, about an hour from the military prison, shortly after 9 p.m. Friday. Security was tight, with the terminal completely blocked off, and a convoy of unmarked vehicles pulled off the tarmac and out of the airport.
Time In Iraq
Early indications are that Bales was a good soldier. He signed up soon after Sept. 11, 2001. In the decade since, he served three times in Iraq, earning medals for good conduct and meritorious service.
In 2007, Bales took part in the battle of Najaf, an intense engagement later written up in a Fort Lewis newspaper called the Northwest Guardian. In the article, Bales is quoted saying he was proud of his unit, because “we discriminated between the bad guys and the noncombatants.”
One officer who was there says Bales distinguished himself, and he told the Seattle Times Friday night that when he learned the name of the alleged shooter in Afghanistan, “I nearly fell off my chair and had a good cry.”
Bales became a staff sergeant in April 2008, following his second deployment in Iraq. He went to Iraq one more time before his fourth deployment, to Afghanistan.
Attorney John Henry Browne said his client was injured twice while deployed to Iraq. Bales suffered a concussion in a vehicle accident caused by an improvised explosive device, Browne said, and sustained a battle-related injury requiring surgery that removed part of one foot.
Deployment To Afghanistan
Browne said when the 11-year veteran heard he was being sent to Afghanistan late last year, he did not want to go.
“He wasn’t thrilled about going on another deployment,” he said. “He was told he wasn’t going back, and then he was told he was going.”
The staff sergeant arrived in Afghanistan in December. On Feb. 1 he was assigned to a base in the Panjwai District, near Kandahar, to work with a village stability force that pairs special operations troops with villagers to help provide neighborhood security.
On March 10, the day before the shooting spree, Browne said the soldier saw his friend’s leg blown off. Browne said his client’s family provided him with that information, which has not been independently verified.
Officials said Bales was wearing a NATO forces uniform when he moved through the nearby villages of Alkozai and Balandi, barging into homes and opening fire on those inside, then burning some of the bodies. Nine of those killed were children. Eleven of the dead were from a single family.
‘War Is A Terrible Thing’
The Army is now sheltering Bales’ wife and two small children at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, while the TV trucks line up outside their house.
Another neighbor, Stu Ness, walks up to take a look. Ness is wearing a jacket covered with patches commemorating his own service in Vietnam.
“War is a terrible thing and things happen to people and [it] does strange things to their mind,” he says. “He’s obviously been affected by the war, and I just came to support him.”
Military officials have leaked information indicating the possibility that Bales “snapped” under pressure, perhaps because of marital troubles or alcohol abuse. Bales’ civilian lawyer has cast doubt on those theories, but he does say that, after three combat tours, Bales did not want to go on a fourth.
NPR’s Martin Kaste contributed to this report, which contains material from The Associated Press [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]