"I thank George Bush for making my son a killing machine," the father of a soldier who is said to have confessed to killing his wife in Lakewood said on Thursday at his home in Ohio. "All he could talk about was how many people he killed over there and how easy he could do it," James Pitts Sr. said. "He said he ran over kids and everything over there. . . . He went to Iraq, and he was fine. He came back a monster. How many more monsters are going to come back?" -- The experts say there's no cause for surprise.[2,4] Below are stories from the News Tribune (Tacoma, WA)[1,2] and the Chronicle-Telegram (Elyria, OH).[3,4]....
IRAQ WAR 'CHANGED' SOLDIER CHARGED IN WIFE'S DEATH, FATHER SAYS
By Sean Robinson
** Lakewood: Sergeant spoke to family of how many people he had killed **
The News Tribune (Tacoma, WA)
April 23, 2004
When Tara Pitts, 28, found love letters in the glove box of her husband's car earlier this year, she turned them over to the commanders in charge of his unit at Fort Lewis.
On April 10, according to court documents, her husband, James Kevin Pitts, threatened to kill her. She reported him to police and obtained a domestic violence protection order to keep him away from their home in Lakewood.
For those reasons, Pierce county prosecutors say, Pitts forced his wife's head into a bathtub full of water Wednesday morning, and held it down until she stopped kicking. Then he placed her body in bed, so the couple's 9-year-old son wouldn't "see her that way" when he came home from school.
Now Pitts, 31, a sergeant first class who returned from a tour of duty in Iraq in February, faces a charge of second-degree murder. He entered a plea of not guilty Thursday in Pierce County Superior Court. Judge Frank Cuthbertson set bail at $250,000.
To a sergeant at Fort Lewis, and later to Lakewood police, Pitts admitted killing his wife and explained how he did it, court documents state.
Pitts was deployed to Iraq in March 2003 with other soldiers from the 555th Combat Engineer Group, known informally as the "Triple Nickel." He returned in February 2004. Pitts then had an affair with a soldier in his unit, he told deputies.
At some point, Tara Pitts found love letters in her husband's car. Marital discord followed; in her petition for a restraining order, Tara Pitts reported that her husband grabbed her face and pushed her down on April 3. She stated that on April 10, her husband told her "he would put a bullet through my head and sit in jail for the rest of his life if I ruined his last 80 days here."
Tara Pitts reported the incident to Lakewood police, who advised her to get a restraining order, Pierce county Sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer said. On April 12, she found a note from her husband that said, "Tell Joe (the couple's son) I love him and I will make sure you still get life insurance. Goodbye."
Tara Pitts got the restraining order April 12. It forbade James Pitts to come within one mile of his wife or the couple's house in Lakewood, the house where she was killed nine days later.
"She never called us and told us that he was back," Troyer said. "She said she was staying with friends. All she had to do was call us. We did not get a call from her."
The day after the restraining order was granted, Pitts left the state and visited his family in Sheffield Lake, Ohio [on the shores of Lake Erie, a few miles west of Cleveland], staying from April 13 to April 16. His father, James Pitts Sr., said the war changed his son.
"All he could talk about was how many people he killed over there and how easy he could do it," the father said, adding that the family told him to leave the house and return to Washington because he was AWOL.
Joshua Pitts, the suspect's brother, said James planned to fly back and report for duty. Police say that didn't happen.
Neighbors in Lakewood told police the couple had apparently reconciled and had been living in their apartment together since Monday, Troyer said.
The couple's 9-year-old son remains in police care, Troyer said. Family members in Ohio were making arrangements Thursday to pick him up.
COMBAT STRESS COMMON AMONG RETURNING SOLDIERS
By Rob Carson
** Iraq war: Personnel should be told 'you're not the same person,' Vietnam vet says **
The News Tribune (Tacoma, WA)
April 23, 2004
In interviews with investigators, Sgt. 1st Class James Kevin Pitts scoffed at the idea that stress from combat in Iraq had anything to do with his wife's death.
"That's for people who are weak-minded," said Pitts, who now faces charges of second-degree murder in Tara Pitts' slaying.
But military psychologists and veterans of past wars suspect he might have been mistaken.
Since the end of the Vietnam War, post-traumatic stress disorder has been recognized as a condition almost universally present in soldiers returning from combat.
With thousands of soldiers now beginning to cycle back home from tours in Iraq, mental health experts say the larger community should be prepared for some difficulty in reintegration.
"The one thing that we have learned, without question, is that people coming back from combat deployments often have a variety of concerns and conditions that need immediate attention," said Dr. Stephen Hunt, director of the Veterans Affairs Deployment Health Clinics in Seattle and American Lake.
"Our approach is, almost anybody that's been involved in combat needs help, and we're trying to provide as much as we can," Hunt said.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a specific physiological syndrome that involves physical changes in the brain and central nervous system, Hunt said, and it can manifest itself in behavioral changes that range from difficulty sleeping to anger.
Fort Lewis officials refused Thursday to discuss Pitts' case or what counseling he might have received on his return in the past month after a yearlong deployment in Iraq.
However, Capt. Charlie Lee, a chaplain who served in Iraq with Pitts in the 555th Combat Engineer Group, said that before they left the country, every soldier received mandatory briefings on combat-stress awareness and domestic violence.
The briefings cover potential health and emotional problems linked to combat as well as possible financial and legal problems that can arise during long deployments, according to Army records.
The fact that the Army requires such briefings is a radical departure from the Vietnam War and even the Persian Gulf War era.
Earl Burks, a Tacoma native who served as a crew chief on a helicopter in Vietnam, says he has spent years struggling to overcome effects of PTSD.
But when he and thousands of other Vietnam veterans returned to the United States, he said, there was no counseling available or even any official recognition that problems might surface.
Burks did not seek treatment, he said, until 12 year after he returned home, even though he now sees that he needed it much earlier.
Now 50, Burks said he is convinced that the sooner veterans get treatment, the better.
"These kids here, they shouldn't go anywhere except into PTSD briefings when they get back," he said. "They shouldn't be let back into the public."
"The first thing they should tell them is, 'You're not the same person anymore, and you never will be.' "
In the last decade, Hunt said, Veteran Affairs and the Department of Defense have cooperated on implementing programs that put programs within easy reach of soldiers as soon as they come back.
"That's common sense, and that's the approach we've taken," Hunt said.
[In fact, it was only on May 14, 2003, that the Army announced a sweeping new program setting Army-wide standards in which commanders down to the squad level try to identify whether soldiers are at risk for problems like domestic violence (New York Times, May 15, 2003). The new policies were the result of a spate of wife-killings committed by combat veterans returning from Afghanistan. In one six-week period in the summer of 2002, four women were killed by their soldier husbands, three of whom were members of Special Forces (New York Times, July 29, 2002). --H.B.]
He said the VA's deployment clinics also help active duty soldiers. On average, two or three Iraq veterans are showing up each week, he said.
"Going off to war is a very, very difficult experience for people, and the difficulty doesn't stop when they return," Hunt said.
"We're not saying that people that come back are abnormal or crazed or anything, but they often need assistance in readjusting to civilian life or non-military life."
Sgt. Pitts' father, James Pitts Sr., put it more bluntly.
"He went to Iraq and he was fine," the elder Pitts said of his son. "He came back a monster.
"How many more monsters are going to come back?"
SOLDIER CHARGED IN KILLING
By Dan Harkins
The Chronicle-Telegram (Elyria, OH)
April 23, 2004
An Army sergeant who grew up in Sheffield Lake has been charged with killing his 28-year-old wife at their home in Washington state, barely a month after he returned from a yearlong tour in Iraq.
James Kevin Pitts, 31, was arraigned Thursday afternoon on a single charge of murder.
An autopsy Thursday determined that his wife died of drowning in a bathtub, medical investigator Ryann Thill said.
Family members said Tara Pitts, who graduated from Avon Lake High School in 1993, caught her husband cheating with a 20-year-old private under his command about three weeks ago.
That discovery began a cycle of violence that led to her death, police said.
ìI thank George Bush for making my son a killing machine,î a visibly shaken James Pitts Sr. said Thursday. ìThatís what he made. He went to Iraq, and he was fine. He came back a monster. How many more monsters are going to come back?î
James Kevin Pitts was an engineer for the 55th Combat Engineer Group, known as the ìTriple Nickel.î
ìHe helped build POW camps over there, then all of a sudden he was infantry,î said his father, who lives in Sheffield Lake.
Pitts graduated from Brookside High School in 1991.
Police said they found Tara Pittsí body around 3:40 p.m. Wednesday in the coupleís apartment. There were no outward signs of violence, said Detective Ed Troyer of the Pierce County Sheriffís Department.
Joshua Pitts, James Kevin Pittsí 22-year-old brother, said that in early April, Tara Pitts found incriminating letters from a private in her husbandís unit. She confronted him in their apartment, and he became violent, police said.
ìHe pushed her, threatened to kill her and was drunk,î Troyer said. He said police looked for James Kevin Pitts, but believed that he had moved back to Ohio.
Tara Pitts reported the incident to police in Lakewood, Wash., on April 10. On April 13, she received a temporary restraining order against her husband.
Pittsí father said his son came back to Sheffield Lake last week -- on the same day Tara Pitts got the restraining order -- and was talking about all the killing he had done in the line of duty.
ìAll he could talk about was how many people he killed over there and how easy he could do it,î James Pitts Sr. said. ìHe said he ran over kids and everything over there.î
Joshua Pitts said his brother left Sheffield Lake on Friday, planning to fly back and report for duty at Fort Lewis, Wash. Troyer, the police detective, said Pittsí family eventually threw him out because he had gone AWOL.
The couple apparently reconciled and had been living together in their apartment since Monday, neighbors told police.
But on Wednesday afternoon, James Kevin Pitts went into a bowling alley and called a friend to say that he had killed his wife. His friend called police, and Pitts was quickly arrested.
At the bowling alley, he also called his family in Sheffield Lake.
ìMy son called and said, ëI just killed my wife,í î James Pitts Sr. told Seattle television station KIRO. ì ëI said, ëYouíre (kidding) me.í My son says ënoí and hung up.
ìI loved her like my daughter. Heís not my son anymore.î
Sheffield Lake police were asked to notify Tara Pittsí mother, Diane Sherwin, of her daughterís death on Wednesday night.
Sherwin flew to Washington on Thursday morning, a neighbor said.
Her father, Frank Balogh of Avon Lake, was contacted by police there.
James Pitts Sr. was making arrangements Thursday to travel to Washington to see about picking up his 9-year-old grandson, Joseph, the son of James and Tara Pitts. Police said the child was at school when his mother was killed.
Matt Hinkle, a civilian spokesman for Fort Lewis, said he had little information regarding the incident. He said he could not say whether Pitts was being investigated for fraternization, or inappropriate conduct with a subordinate.
Court records show that Kevin James Pitts had some run-ins with the law while in Lorain County. He and another man were charged with resisting arrest, vandalism and assault after an attack on a 15-year-old boy inside Spencer Gifts at the former Midway Mall in 1994.
Sheffield Lake police Capt. Tony Campo said Pitts had some minor scrapes with the law, the last in 1998.
ìMinor stuff -- open container, underage drinking and a DUI, stuff like that,î Campo said.
--The Associated Press contributed to this story.
'HE CAME HOME DIFFERENT': FAMILY BLAMES IRAQ WAR
By Dan Harkins and Corrine Ramey
The Chronicle-Telegram (Elyria, OH)
April 23, 2004
[Photo caption: Jim Pitts Sr., right, talks about his son, James Kevin Pitts, as Jamesí brother Mike sits by at their home. (http://www.chronicletelegram.com/)]
The Sheffield Lake family of James Kevin Pitts Jr., who was charged with the murder of his wife Thursday, a month after returning from duty in Iraq, blame the war for turning their son into a monster.
ìHe wasnít like this before,î said his brother Joshua Pitts. ìHe went over there to Iraq and came home different.î
At least one psychologist feels like the family could be on to something.
ìPost-traumatic stress disorder, particularly those who see combat, is something that weíre becoming aware of being more and more common,î said Diana Santantonio, a psychologist and executive director of Psychological and Psychiatric Services in Elyria. ìAnd in an extreme case of post-traumatic syndrome, a reaction can be either suicide and in some cases serious domestic violence -- which can lead not just to emotional abuse, but physical abuse and homicide. That does occur.î
Soldiers who sign up these days know what theyíre getting into, Santantonio said.
In the past, when the draft was going on, obviously people would get drafted and ending up in a war when they didnít want to be there,î she said. ìIn this case, we have an all-volunteer armed services. People join up knowing this is possible; however, in spite of that, there are some people that, regardless of at some level making this choice, nevertheless find themselves going through experiences like this. They psychologically canít handle it.î
Marilyn Zeidner, executive director of Genesis House domestic violence shelter, said being in a war and learning how to kill gives no one a license to do it to a civilian.
ìI canít say that war causes domestic violence,î she said. ìBut in general, people who have access to weapons and know how to use them jacks up the risk of violence.î
Though Jeff Young, a civilian spokesman for Fort Lewis, said all Army personnel deployed to combat, and their families, receive thorough briefings about the stresses involved with deployment.
Members of the 555th Combat Engineer Group, of which Pitts was a sergeant first class, received so-called ìredeployment briefingsî before they left Iraq and again when they got home, Young said. Such briefings discuss potential health and emotional problems associated with combat as well as potential financial and legal problems that sometimes arise during long deployments, according to Army records.
In addition, family readiness and family support groups on post provide resources for spouses and relatives left behind, Young said.
The Army has a vested interest in making sure its soldiers and their families adjust to life together once combat ends, Young said. It helps with retention of current soldiers and recruiting of new ones, he said.
ìThere are plenty of resources available,î Young said. ìWhether they will work for every soldier is a fair question.î
--The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash., contributed to this story.