February 6, 2013

Killing of a Navy SEAL: The downside of 'gun therapy'

To some veterans, gunfire might trigger an erratic response, which may have happened when Chris Kyle and a friend were shot in Texas.

By NOMAAN MERCHANT/The Associated Press

click image to enlarge

Former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, seen in a 2012 file photo, survived warfare but not a day on a Texas firing range, where an unstable young ex-Marine allegedly shot him and another man.

Paul Moseley/Fort Worth Star-Telegram via The Associated Press

click image to enlarge

Eddie Ray Routh, who is accused of fatally shooting a former Navy SEAL and a friend, had long been prone to irrational behavior, according to police records.

Erath County Sheriff's Office via The Associated Press

IN RUN-UP TO SHOOTINGS,
MANY RED FLAGS ABOUT
ROUTH'S WELL-BEING

FORT WORTH, Texas — A 911 recording and documents released Tuesday reveal more about the possible state of mind of the Iraq War veteran charged with gunning down a former Navy SEAL sniper and his friend at a Texas shooting range.

Eddie Ray Routh told his sister and brother-in-law that he and the two men "were out shooting target practice and he couldn't trust them so he killed them before they could kill him," according to a Lancaster police search warrant affidavit.

Shortly after the shootings, Routh's sister told a 911 operator that her brother had confessed to killing two people and was "psychotic," according to a recording of the frantic call to police.

Routh, 25, remains jailed in Erath County on $3 million bail and is on suicide watch.

Laura Blevins told police her brother seemed "out of his mind saying people were sucking his soul and that he could smell the pigs. He said he was going to get their souls before they took his," according to the affidavit, obtained by WFAA-TV.

In a 911 call obtained by The Dallas Morning News, Routh's mom, Jodi Routh, told an operator in September that her son "probably needs to go to the VA to the emergency room and they need to admit him to the mental ward." Later, she said one of her son's Marine Corps buddies had taken weapons from the house for safekeeping.

– The Associated Press

DALLAS — Chris Kyle, reputed to be the deadliest sniper in American military history, often took veterans out shooting as a way to ease the trauma of war. Taking aim at a target, he once wrote, would help coax them back into normal, everyday life with a familiar, comforting activity.

But his death at a North Texas shooting range -- allegedly at the hands of a troubled Iraq War veteran he was trying to assist -- has highlighted the potential dangers of the practice.

Former soldiers and others familiar with their struggles say shooting a gun can sometimes be as therapeutic as playing with a dog or riding a horse. Psychiatrists wonder, though, whether the smell of the gunpowder and the crack of gunfire can trigger unpredictable responses, particularly in someone suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or other illnesses that aren't immediately obvious.

"You have to be very careful with doing those kinds of treatment," said Dr. Charles Marmar, chairman of the psychiatry department at New York University's Langone Medical Center. "People have to be well prepared for them."

"But obviously you would not take a person who was highly unstable and give them access to weapons," added Marmar, who said he wasn't commenting on the suspected shooter's mental state. "That's very different."

Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said he has heard of exposure to weapons being helpful to some veterans who weren't keen on conventional therapy.

"These types of programs can often be an on-ramp for people who won't go to any other type of program," Rieckhoff said. "Anything that is connected to the military culture is an easier bridge to cross."

However, he said, therapy with guns is not "incredibly common right now."

Former soldiers sometimes take solace in target shooting and use it to reconnect with other veterans, said Rieckhoff and Tim McCarty, a former Air Force staff sergeant who now works at a gun range.

After he left the Air Force in 2011, McCarty said he felt confused as he went from being a valued member of the military to a civilian looking for a job. He found refuge at a gun range and is now helping to develop a training program for new range shooters.

"It's just a familiarity thing. It's comforting," McCarty said of firing a gun. "I don't want to say it's a way to hang onto the past, but for a lot of guys, the military was the last thing they knew, and it was one of the best times of their lives, and it's a way to hang onto that."

Kyle wrote about going on shooting retreats with wounded veterans in his best-seller, "American Sniper." The publisher, HarperCollins, says Kyle had more than 150 confirmed kills although the Pentagon did not corroborate that total.

"We go hunting a couple of times a day, shoot a few rounds on the range, then at night trade stories and beers," wrote Kyle, who also organized a nonprofit to give in-home fitness equipment to wounded veterans.

"It's not so much the war stories as the funny stories that you remember. Those are the ones that affect you. They underline the resilience of these guys -- they were warriors in the war, and they take that same warrior attitude into dealing with their disabilities."

Kyle and a friend, Chad Littlefield, had taken Eddie Ray Routh to the gun range Saturday. Routh, a 25-year-old Marine veteran, now stands accused of fatally shooting both men.

Police records suggest Routh was struggling with mental illness, though it's not clear whether Kyle and Littlefield knew of those issues.

(Continued on page 2)

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