WASHINGTON – Investigators combing the medical records of a Joint Base Lewis-McChord staff sergeant suspected of killing 16 civilians have found “no smoking gun” to explain the rampage, two military officials told McClatchy Newspapers on Wednesday.
The officials said the suspect had no evidence of a serious traumatic brain injury or of post-traumatic stress, despite widespread speculation that those conditions were factors in the killing spree.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing, called the suspect’s 10-year Army career “unremarkable” and said he hadn’t had reports of discipline problems while in Afghanistan.
The 38-year-old father deployed three times to Iraq before going to Kandahar province in December with a Joint Base Lewis-McChord Stryker brigade. He was trained as a sniper.
Media reports have focused on the fact that this was his fourth deployment to a war zone and that he had been in a noncombat-related vehicle accident in Iraq in 2010, which left him with a mild case of traumatic brain injury.
The suspect is known to have undergone standard psychological testing after each tour. In addition, he underwent several medical evaluations after the 2010 accident in Iraq.
The lack of a clear cause and effect had Pentagon officials admitting they’re befuddled by what caused last weekend’s attack. The suspect was apprehended as he returned to the base. He acknowledged the killings, then asked for an attorney within minutes of being captured and isn’t cooperating with the investigation, officials said.
The sergeant is suspected of having left his outpost about 1 a.m. Sunday, walking a mile, entering three homes and firing upon unarmed villagers, killing 16 – including nine children – and wounding several others, some critically, according to Afghan officials. American officials haven’t confirmed the number of casualties.
Military investigators arrived at the crime scenes hours after the shooting and collected shell casings and other evidence. But many of the victims already had been buried in accordance with Islamic customs, the officials said.
Investigators are pursuing a variety of explanations for the killings. Alcohol was found at his small outpost in Kandahar’s Panjway district, but officials haven’t determined whether alcohol or drugs contributed to the attack.
They are also investigating whether an email that the sergeant reportedly received from his wife about their failing marriage could have prompted the incident.
The suspect’s family is in protective custody, Army officials said.
Meanwhile, the patience of Afghan investigators appears to be wearing thin regarding the investigation of the massacre.
The soldier was caught on U.S. surveillance video that showed him walking up to his base, laying down his weapon and raising his arms in surrender, according to an Afghan official who viewed the footage.
The official said Wednesday that there were two to three hours of video footage covering the time of the attack that Afghan investigators are trying to get from the U.S. military. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
U.S. authorities showed their Afghan counterparts the video of the surrender to prove that only one perpetrator was involved in the shootings, the official said.
Some Afghan officials and residents in the villages that were attacked have insisted that there was more than one shooter.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.