Ted S. Warren, Associated Press
After five days cloaked in military secrecy, the U.S. soldier suspected in a massacre of 16 Afghan civilians has been identified as a Washington state father of two who underwent anger management counseling a decade ago after an arrest for assault on a girlfriend.
The soldier accused in the killings is Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 38, his lawyer confirmed Friday. Bales is from Lake Tapps, Wash., a community set amid pine trees surrounding a reservoir about 35 miles south of Seattle.
Bales is married, the father of two young children and a veteran who was in the midst of his fourth tour in a war zone. Neighbors described him late Friday as good-natured and warm, and recalled seeing him playing outside the family's modern split-level with his children, ages 3 and 4.
But court records show Bales was arrested at a Tacoma, Wash., hotel in 2002 for investigation of assault on a woman he dated before he married his wife, his lawyer, John Henry Browne, confirmed. Bales pleaded not guilty, underwent 20 hours of anger management counseling and the case was dismissed, according to court records.
Until late Friday, nearly all the very limited information known about Bales had come either from unnamed military officials or Browne.
Even seemingly straightforward information raised questions not easily answered — such as a possible defense of post-traumatic stress disorder.
For example, 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.
Neighbors, though, recalled a man who was stoic about his time at war and didn't let on much.
"He always had a good attitude about being in the service," said Kassie Holland, who lives next door. "He was never really angry about about it. When I heard him talk, he said ... 'yeah, that's my job. That's what I do.' He never expressed a lot of emotion toward it."
Holland called Bales kind-hearted around the neighborhood. "I can't believe it was him," she said. "There were no signs. It's really sad. I don't want to believe that he did it."
Reporters swarmed Bales' neighborhood on Friday night; no one answered the door at his white split-level home, set back from the road.
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 has said the suspect is originally from the Midwest but now lives near Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.
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