As Afghan massacre suspect Staff Sgt. Robert Bales sat alone in a cell at the high-security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., on Saturday, a divergent portrait of the Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier emerged.
Classmates and neighbors from suburban Cincinnati remembered him as a “happy-go-lucky” high school football player who took care of a special-needs child and watched out for troublemakers in the neighborhood.
His former platoon leader said Saturday that Bales was a model soldier who saved lives in firefights on his second of three Iraq missions.
“He’s one of the best guys I ever worked with,” said Army Capt. Chris Alexander, who led Bales on a 15-month deployment in Iraq.
It remains unclear what prompted Bales to allegedly creep away from a southern Afghanistan base March 11 to two villages, shooting his victims and setting many on fire. Nine of the 16 killed were children.
Bales, a student of Middle Eastern history and customs, often admonished younger GIs to treat noncombatants with respect, Alexander said.
Signs of financial stress facing Bales’ family were evident at a property his wife, Karilyn, bought before their marriage. They lived there briefly until they bought a house in late 2005.
The two-story duplex is in Auburn. A sign stuck on the door, dated November 2010, states that Auburn building officials had declared the home unfit for human occupancy.
Bales and his wife also were struggling to keep up payments on their home in Lake Tapps; his wife asked to put the house on the market three days before the shootings, real estate agent Philip Rodocker said.
Bales enlisted two months after the Sept. 11 attacks. At 28, he was older than the average Army recruit.
While he was disappointed in 2011 at not winning a key promotion to sergeant first class, which would have put him on a more promising career path, several former military officers said it often takes several reviews to gain that promotion.
Reports have indicated Army investigators found alcohol in Bales’ base quarters there, which is not permitted, and that Bales’ purported alcohol use will be examined as part of the inquiry into the killings.
Bales’ lawyer, John Henry Browne of Seattle, said his information indicates his client did not have a drinking problem and he didn’t know whether Bales had post-traumatic stress disorder at the time of the shootings.
A statement Saturday from Bales’ legal team said Bales’ family was “stunned in the face of this tragedy. But they stand behind the man they know as a devoted husband, father and dedicated member of the armed services.”
The Washington Post, The Associated Press and Seattle Times writer Hal Bernton contributed to this report.