Colorado Springs Gazette
Casualties of War, Part I: The hell of war comes home
Casualties of War, Part II: Warning signs
Marquez, who was arrested before the latest programs were created, said he would never have pulled the trigger if he had not gone to Iraq.
“If I was just a guy off the street, I might have hesitated to shoot,” Marquez said this spring as he sat in the Bent County Correctional Facility, where he is serving 30 years. “But after Iraq, it was just natural.”
More killing by more soldiers followed.
In August 2007, Louis Bressler, 24, robbed and shot a soldier he picked up on a street in Colorado Springs.
In December 2007, Bressler and fellow soldiers Bruce Bastien Jr., 21, and Kenneth Eastridge, 24, left the bullet-riddled body of a soldier from their unit on a west-side street.
In May and June 2008, police say Rudolfo Torres-Gandarilla, 20, and Jomar Falu-Vives, 23, drove around with an assault rifle, randomly shooting people.
In September 2008, police say John Needham, 25, beat a former girlfriend to death.
Most of the killers were from a single 500-soldier unit within the brigade called the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, which nicknamed itself the “Lethal Warriors.”
The battalion is overwhelmingly made up of young men, who, demographically, have the highest murder rate in the United States, but the brigade still has a murder rate 20 times that of young males as a whole.
The killings are only the headline-grabbing tip of a much broader pyramid of crime. Since 2005, the brigade’s returning soldiers have been involved in brawls, beatings, rapes, DUIs, drug deals, domestic violence, shootings, stabbings, kidnapping and suicides.
Like Marquez, most of the jailed soldiers struggled to adjust to life back home after combat. Like Marquez, many showed signs of growing trouble before they ended up behind bars. Like Marquez, all raise difficult questions about the cause of the violence.
Did the infantry turn some men into killers, or did killers seek out the infantry? Did the Army let in criminals, or did combat-tattered soldiers fall into criminal habits? Did Fort Carson fail to take care of soldiers, or did soldiers fail to take advantage of care they were offered?
And, most importantly, since the brigade is now in Afghanistan, is there a way to keep the violence from happening again?
“After being in Iraq, it feels like everyone is the enemy,” he said. “You feel like you need a gun so they don’t come to get you.”
His friends all felt the same way.
Nash slept with a loaded .45 under his pillow.
Butler kept a Glock .40-caliber with him all the time, even when he rocked his newborn baby.
Marquez bought three pistols, a riot-style shotgun and an assault rifle like the one he carried in Iraq. He carried a pistol constantly, he said, even when he went to church.
His buddy, Freeman, said he bought himself a “big, scary” snub-nose .357 revolver.
In a December 2007 letter to the Inspector General’s Office of Fort Carson, which investigates crimes within the Army, Needham told of the atrocities he saw. His father provided a copy to The Gazette.
One sergeant shot a boy riding a bicycle down the street for no reason, John Needham said. When Needham and another soldier rushed to deliver first aid, the sergeant said, “No, let him bleed out.”
Another sergeant shot a man in the head without cause while questioning him, Needham said, then mutilated the body, lashed it to the hood of his Humvee and drove around the neighborhood blaring warnings to insurgents in Arabic that “they would be next.”
Other Iraqis were shot for invented reasons, then mutilated, Needham said.
The sergeants particularly liked removing victims’ brains, Needham said.
Needham offered a photograph of a soldier removing brains from an Iraqi on the hood of a Humvee and other photos as evidence. His father supplied copies to The Gazette.
The Army’s criminal investigation division interviewed several soldiers from the unit and said it was “unable to substantiate any of his allegations.”