The man who says he killed sixteen Afghan civilians, most of them women and children, has been identified by a "senior U.S. official" as Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the News Tribune (Tacoma, WA) reported Friday.[1]  --  He and his wife (they have two children, ages 2 and 5) has been living in Lake Tapps, WA, where "in November 2005, county records show [t]hey paid $280,000 for a 4-bedroom 2-story home built in 1990. The house was listed for sale on March 12."  --  "The soldier was being flown Friday to the U.S. military's only maximum-security prison, at Fort Leavenworth." ....



News Tribune (Tacoma, WA)
March 16, 2012

After five days cloaked in military secrecy, the soldier suspected in a massacre of 16 Afghan civilians has finally been identified, adding a critical detail to the still-sketchy portrait just beginning to emerge.

A senior U.S. official says the soldier accused in the killings is Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation into an incident that has roiled relations with Afghanistan.

Bales, who is 38, is a husband and father of two young children and a veteran who was in the midst of his fourth tour in a war zone.  But because of a tightly controlled flow of information, many of the details are incomplete and difficult to verify.

Records accessed by The News Tribune indicate that Robert N. Bales owns a home in Lake Tapps with his wife.

Kassie Holland, who grew up in the house next door to the Baleses in the Lake Tapps area, was shocked to hear that Bales was the suspect.  She declined to say how she found out.

Holland said Robert Bales often played outside the house with his kids.  "I was really shocked about the whole situation," she said.  "I couldn't believe that it was him."

Bales, she said, was a "great guy.  He was always fun to be around, great with his kids, a supportive husband and father."

He and his wife, Karilyn, bought their house in Lake Tapps in November 2005, county records show. They paid $280,000 for a 4-bedroom 2-story home built in 1990. The house was listed for sale on March 12.

The Bales family suburban split level house in a wooded Lake Tapps neighborhood has the feel of a home that was quickly emptied.

Cardboard boxes with children's toys and other items were left on the porch, along with unread newspapers dating to January. An American flag is propped against the entryway of the house.

Neighbors said they hadn't seen cars coming and going for a few months.

Holland said the family seemed happy, had a boat and that she saw them last at her job at a pizza parlor. They came in for dinner before he deployed. He didn't complain about his job or being deployed, she said. "He always had a great attitude about being in the service. He seemed just like, yeah, it's my job, it's ... what I do."

In July 2002, Bales received a deferred sentence for a misdemeanor criminal assault charge in Tacoma Municipal Court. The charge was later dismissed after Bales completed an anger management assessment, had no other law violations in six months and paid a $300 fine, court records show.

Bales was on military duty when his first child, a daughter, was born in December 2006, according to a blog written by his wife, Karilyn.

Court records show that Bales was cited for a misdemeanor hit-and-run incident in October 2008 in Sumner. He received a deferred 12-month sentence, and paid a fine of $250, which led to a dismissal of the charges.

Records state that Bales was spotted on Oct. 11, 2008, running from an accident scene shortly after midnight on the Sumner-Tapps Highway. It was a single-car rollover accident, records state. No other drivers were involved.

Witnesses reported seeing "a white male wearing military-style uniform, shaved head and bleeding," fleeing on foot and running into nearby woods. A police officer spoke to Bales, the owner of the car, who said he had fallen asleep behind the wheel.

Bales last Iraq deployment was Aug. 9, 2009, according to a statement on his wife's blog.

In a blog post last March, Karilyn wrote: "Well we found out yesterday that Bob did not get promoted to E7 this year. It is very disappointed after all of the work Bob has done and all the sacrifices he has made for his love of his country, family and friends. I am sad and disappointed too, but I am also relieved, we can finally move on to the next phase of our lives."

The family was getting ready to move that summer 2011 and hoped that the Army would allow them some say over where they went. The couple was hoping to be stationed in Germany, Italy, Hawaii, Kentucky to "be near Bob's family" or Georgia "to be a sniper teacher."

In a 2009 article on the Army website that was erased online – but still available in a cached Google version – a Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is quoted describing the Battle of Zarqa, a January 2007 operation to recover a downed Apache helicopter south of the city of Najaf.

Bales, identified in the article as a team leader in C Company's 1st Squad, describes a battle remembered both for its humanitarian component as well as its military execution. He spoke of carrying injured civilians to safety: “We'd go in, find some people that we could help, because there were a bunch of dead people we couldn't,throw them on a litter and bring them out to the casualty collection point.”

Later in the article, Bales said, “I've never been more proud to be a part of this unit than that day…. for the simple fact that we discriminated between the bad guys and the noncombatants and then afterward we ended up helping the people that three or four hours before were trying to kill us. I think that's the real difference between being an American as opposed to being a bad guy, someone who puts his family in harm's way like that.”

Most information about the suspect -- before he was identified -- has come from two camps, each representing particular interests.

There's the U.S. government, almost always represented by the voices of unidentified "senior military officials."  On the other side, there's the civilian lawyer, John Henry Browne, a veteran criminal defense attorney from Seattle, near Bales' home base.

Until late Friday, both had refused to divulge Bales' name, placing sharp limitations on efforts to evaluate the information presented about the soldier -- no chance to interview family members, close friends, neighbors or fellow soldiers.  And no chance to examine official records.

Even seemingly straightforward information raises questions that are not easily answered, at least for now  -- such as a possible defense of post-traumatic stress disorder.

For example, the suspect now identified as Bales lost part of one foot because of injuries suffered in Iraq during one of his three tours of duty there, his lawyer said. Browne also said that when the 11-year veteran heard he was being sent to Afghanistan late last year, he did not want to go. He also said that a day before the rampage through two villages, the soldier saw a comrade's leg blown off.

The same goes for the possibility alcohol played a role.

On Friday, a senior U.S. defense official said Bales was drinking alcohol in the hours before the attack on Afghan villagers, violating a U.S. military order banning alcohol in war zones. The official discussed the matter on condition of anonymity because charges have not yet been filed.

Browne said his client's family told him they were not aware of any drinking problem — not necessarily a contradiction. Pressed on the issue in interviews with news organizations, Browne said he did not know if his client had been drinking the night of the massacre.

The soldier was being flown Friday to the U.S. military's only maximum-security prison, at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., said a senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of security surrounding the move.

The move to the U.S. does not necessarily mean an announcement of formal criminal charges is imminent, a defense official said.

Browne said the Bales is originally from the Midwest but now lives near Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. His children are 2 and 5.

The sergeant's family says they saw no signs of aggression or anger. "They were totally shocked," by accounts of the massacre, Browne said. "He's never said anything antagonistic about Muslims. He's in general very mild-mannered."

Bales, said to have received sniper training, is assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, of the 2nd Infantry Division, which is based at Lewis-McChord and has been dispatched to Iraq three times since 2003, military officials say.

The soldier was injured twice in Iraq, Browne said. A battle-related injury required surgery to remove part of one foot, the lawyer said.

But Browne and government officials differ in their portrayal of a second injury, to the soldier's head, in a vehicle accident.

A government official said this week that the accident was not related to combat. But Browne said the man suffered a concussion in an accident caused by an improvised explosive device.

Browne also said his client was "highly decorated," but did not provide any specifics.

When he returned to the Seattle area, the staff sergeant at first thought he would not be required to join his unit when it shipped out for Afghanistan, the lawyer said. His family thought he was done fighting and was counting on him staying home. Until orders came dispatching him to Afghanistan, he was training to be a military recruiter, Browne said.

"He wasn't thrilled about going on another deployment," Browne said. "He was told he wasn't going back, and then he was told he was going."

Bales 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 Saturday, 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 verified.

The other soldier's "leg was blown off, and my client was standing next to him," he said.

Browne said he did not know if his client had been suffering from PTSD, but said it could be an issue at trial if experts believe it's relevant. Experts on PTSD said witnessing the injury of a fellow soldier and the soldier's own previous injuries put him at risk.

"We've known ever since the Vietnam war that the unfortunate phenomenon of abusive violence often closely follows the injury or death of a buddy in combat," said Dr. Roger Pitman, a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist who heads the PTSD Research Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital. "The injury or death of a buddy creates a kind of a blind rage."

--The Seattle Times and The Associated Press contributed to this report.