6:00am

Sat March 17, 2012
Around the Nation

Suspect In Afghanistan Shooting Shocks Neighbors

Transcript

JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is away. I'm Jacki Lyden. The U.S. soldier alleged to have killed 16 Afghan civilians on Sunday has been identified: He's Staff Sergeant Robert Bales of Lake Tapps, Washington. Government officials leaked the name late yesterday after nearly a week of secrecy. The Army has confirmed that Bales is now being held at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he has a cell to himself. Bales's home post is Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Seattle and NPR's Martin Kaste says the people who know him there are shocked by the news.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: There's no one home at the Bales house. The front porch is crammed with boxes and other odds and ends apparently left behind in a short-notice move. A realtor's key locker hangs on the front door. The house was put up for sale on Monday, the day after the news of the massacre half a world away.

KASSIE HOLLAND: My thought when I heard was I was blown away. I was completely shocked. I never thought that he would do anything like that, ever.

KASTE: Kassie Holland knows the Bales family well. Her father lives next door and she spends time here - kids' birthday parties, Fourth of July. She has nothing but good things to say about Robert Bales.

HOLLAND: He was great, loving guy, gentle, happy, you know, fiery, always just happy, happy.

KASTE: Fiery?

HOLLAND: No, don't use that word.

KASTE: Well, tell me what you meant then. Tell me what you mean.

HOLLAND: Just full of life, just really, you know, energetic and happy, just kind of the life of the party.

KASTE: Early indications are that Bales was a good soldier too. He signed up soon after 9/11, and in the decade since, he served three times in Iraq, earning medals for good conduct and meritorious service. In 2007, Bales took part in the battle of Najaf, an intense engagement later written up in a Fort Lewis newspaper called the Northwest Guardian. In the article, Bales is quoted saying he was proud of his unit because - his words here - "we discriminated between the bad guys and the noncombatants." One officer who was there says Bales distinguished himself, and he told the Seattle Times last night that when he learned the name of the alleged shooter in Afghanistan, quote, "I nearly fell off my chair and had a good cry." Bales's record is not perfect. He's had a couple brushes with the law - an assault charge 10 years ago, and more recently, he was cited for running from the scene of a single-car accident. The Army is now sheltering Bales's wife and two small children at Joint Base Lewis-McChord while the TV trucks line up outside their house. Another neighbor, Stu Ness, walks up to take a look. Ness is wearing a jacket covered with patches commemorating his own service in Vietnam.

STU NESS: War is a terrible thing. And things happen to people and does strange things to their mind. And so, obviously, nobody would do anything like that on purpose or, you know, want to do something like that. He obviously's been affected by the war, you know, and I came to support him.

KASTE: Military officials have leaked information indicating the possibility that Bales snapped under pressure, perhaps because of marital troubles or alcohol abuse. Bales's civilian lawyer has cast doubt on those theories but he does say that after three combat tours Bales did not want to go on a fourth. Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.