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Sniper Fires on Army Troops, Killing 1 : Military: 18 are hurt in attack at N.C. base. Fellow soldier is in custody.

October 28, 1995|ART PINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — A soldier opened fire on a group of 1,300 Army paratroopers at Ft. Bragg, N.C., early Friday, killing a major and wounding 18 other soldiers before being subdued. Army authorities said they had no immediate indication why the man acted as he did.

The sniper, hidden in nearby woods, began firing at 6:30 a.m. into a stadium used by the famed 82nd Airborne Division as the paratroopers were preparing for their regular morning physical-training run. The troops, standing in formation under banks of Towle Stadium lights, scattered for cover when the shooting began.

A grainy amateur videotape, taken by a soldier in a nearby building and released to CNN, showed hundreds of soldiers yelling, some shouting "Oh my God," and fleeing the field in all directions.

Authorities named the suspect as Sgt. William J. Kreutzer, 26, of Washington, D.C., an infantry squad leader assigned to Company A of the 4th Battalion of the 325th Airborne Infantry. Kreutzer had not been charged as of Friday night.

A group of soldiers attached to the Army's Special Operations Command at Ft. Bragg said they were performing calisthenics separately nearby when they heard the sniper's shots.

One of the Special Forces troopers, who usually are stationed at Ft. Carson, Colo., but are in training at Ft. Bragg, tackled the gunman while another soldier jumped onto his back and grabbed the weapon.

"It was a fight for his life, and it was a fight for our lives," said Staff Sgt. Anthony Minor, 26, of Omaha. "We did what we were trained to do."

Minor broke his hand getting the weapon and a bullet fired during the scuffle grazed the ankle of Staff Sgt. Robert Howes of San Antonio.

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"There were four guys sitting on him trying to get his weapon," Howes said.

The suspect was not injured, Army officials said.

Officials said Maj. Stephen Mark Badger was killed in the attack. He was a 38-year-old husband and father, born in Salt Lake City. His wife and children live in Fayetteville, N.C. The names of those injured were not released.

Spokesmen for the base said they had been unable to determine any reason for the shooting.

Army officials said some of the victims were also from the 325th Infantry, indicating that the suspect may have been trying to kill one or more people with whom he served. They said Army criminal investigators had been on the scene all day.

Authorities said investigators found three weapons near the scene--a .22-caliber rifle, an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and a 9-millimeter pistol. The AR-15 is a civilian version of the M-16 rifle.

In addition to the 19 soldiers who were shot, one man was hurt when he fell while trying to leave the area.

"We were in formation down there. We were getting ready to leave. I heard shots and thought it was fireworks. Everybody took off," said Pvt. Ezra Johnson, 19, of Frazer, Mont. "I heard a lot of shots. It sounded like a semiautomatic."

The gunman had parked a black Honda CRX on a wide path in the woods that abut the field on one side, then took up a position near the car and fired through the trees, said Capt. Marc Wiggins, spokesman for the 82nd Airborne. The area was partly enveloped by fog.

The two units involved are among the most elite in the Army. The Special Operations Command provides commandos who often are assigned to highly sensitive, covert missions, while the 82nd Airborne often is the first to be deployed for combat duty, such as in the Persian Gulf War.

The wounded soldiers were sent to Ft. Bragg's Womack Army Medical Center, and one was transferred later to Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. Some of the injured were reportedly in critical condition; others had minor wounds.

Except for military police, U.S. soldiers do not usually carry live ammunition when they are outside a firing range or a live-firing exercise. However, authorities said it would not have been difficult for the assailant to have bought ammunition off base.

Maj. Gen. George A. Crocker, commander of the 82nd Airborne, held a news conference Friday night at a Little Rock, Ark., museum where he was scheduled to speak at a fund-raiser.

"I do have a lot of faith in the chain of command at Ft. Bragg. They're in control of the situation," he said. He said he did not plan to cut short his visit to Arkansas and return to North Carolina.

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In Washington, President Clinton told reporters that it was too early for him to comment in detail. "Obviously, I am concerned about it," he said.

Presidential spokesman Mike McCurry said Clinton had been briefed on the incident by Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta. McCurry called it a "tragic incident" and said the White House was trying to find out more about it.

Ft. Bragg, the largest Army base in the nation, is home to about 40,000 soldiers, including the 17,500-man 82nd Airborne. Authorities said relatives seeking information about the shooting may call 1-800-589-5788 or 1-800-457-4636.

Times wire services contributed to this story.

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