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In sniper Chris Kyle's shooting death, postwar worlds collide

February 03, 2013|By Matt Pearce and Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • Eddie Ray Routh, a 25-year-old Marine and Iraq war veteran, has been charged with the shooting deaths of two men, including a famed Navy SEAL sniper and author.
Eddie Ray Routh, a 25-year-old Marine and Iraq war veteran, has been charged… (Erath County Sheriff's…)

A killer and a survivor, Chris Kyle had left the dust-worn places where he had to worry about enemy fire -- or even friendly fire.

Kyle, 38, an author and former Navy SEAL sniper, was shot dead Saturday in Texas by an unemployed, 25-year-old Marine veteran, officials said Sunday afternoon. Another man, Chad Littlefield, 35, was also killed.

The suspect, Eddie Ray Routh, used a semiautomatic handgun to shoot Kyle and Littlefield multiple times at a secluded gun range at the Rough Creek Lodge southwest of Ft. Worth, investigators said at a televised news conference. Routh probably will face two capital murder charges.

The Associated Press reported that Routh remained a reserve with the Marines after serving with them from 2006 to 2010, with a deployment to Iraq in 2007.

Kyle, who was married with two children, was known to take troubled veterans to gun ranges as part of giving back -- shooting and hanging out as a kind of therapy, with the idea of having a good time.

"The shooter is possibly one of those people," Erath County Sheriff Tommy Bryant said, hinting that Routh's mother, a schoolteacher, may have reached out to Kyle to get help for her son. Officials couldn't confirm whether Routh had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. They said there were no witnesses to the shootings.

Routh appeared to be one of the nation's numerous unemployed veterans, and Kyle was one of the crop of Navy SEALs to leave the anonymity of military service and enter the public sphere.

In Kyle's book, "American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History," he claimed that he'd recorded the most confirmed kills of any American sniper -- more than 150. His autobiography was unapologetically politically incorrect, reflecting the man: During one visit home between deployments, Kyle got a tattoo of a crusader cross on his arm.

"I wanted everyone to know I was a Christian," Kyle wrote. "I had it put in in red, for blood. I hated the damn savages I’d been fighting. I always will. They’ve taken so much from me."

Kyle won adulation and a spotlight and appeared on the NBC reality show "Stars Earn Stripes," in which "celebrities are challenged to execute complicated missions inspired by real military exercises."

In an interview with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, Kyle claimed to have punched former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura in 2006.

News of his death spread quickly through the Navy SEAL community, according to Rorke Denver, a reserve SEAL team lieutenant commander based in San Diego, who served with Kyle on SEAL Team 3 in Iraq.

“We’re such a small brotherhood that when something happens to anybody here or overseas, word travels fast,” Denver told The Times on Sunday.

Denver said the news was “really hard to believe,” and he called Kyle “one of our real champions and battle stars.”

For Denver, one of the toughest parts to believe was that Kyle was “not only killed, but on a range with someone he was trying to help, another veteran.”

“I knew Chris had been working with other veterans, folks with PTSD, trying to help them get better,” Denver said. "It’s hard to stomach that someone he was trying to help would turn on him.”

Denver said that during the last day, he has fielded questions from civilians who can’t understand why Kyle would have taken someone with PTSD to a shooting range — but as a veteran, he understands.

“That type of shooting can actually be cathartic, calming,” he said, “letting your heart settle,” particularly for veterans who have just returned home after being accustomed to carrying weapons.

Officials said they don't have a motive for Routh's attack and that he didn't have much of a criminal record. The three men apparently traveled to the gun range together in the same truck.

Police said they tracked Routh to his home in Lancaster, Texas, on Saturday evening, where police tried to convince him to turn himself in. Instead, he made a break for it, and police gave chase.

He was arrested without a fight after officers spiked his tires on a freeway, Bryant said. Authorities said a handgun was found in his home. They wouldn't comment on whether he had any other weapons.

Routh was being held on $3 million bail and didn't have an attorney yet, officials said.

A recent sampling of 1,388 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans by the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Medicine reported that one-third had shown aggression toward others in the past year, with 11% reporting they'd used or threatened to use a knife or gun against another person, gotten into a fight with someone or tried to rape someone.

PTSD, homelessness, substance abuse and joblessness were listed as risk factors.

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