Murder of ex-SEAL sniper raises big questions

Experts suggest using sound judgment when working with troubled vets.

Even as memorial services are being held today for author and retired Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, his murder is raising questions about the wisdom of putting armed weapons into the hands of a disturbed individual.

Eddie Ray Routh is charged with murdering Kyle, 38 —reputed to be the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history — and his friend, Chad Littlefield, 35, on Feb. 2, at a gun range near Dallas. The three had gone there to practice shooting in the hopes it would be good therapy for Routh, a troubled veteran with a history of mental illness. Authorities believe that Routh, 25, shot both men multiple times with a semiautomatic handgun before fleeing in Kyle’s pickup truck.

Local veterans and mental health experts praised Kyle for his good intentions, but some questioned his methods. “That is not really therapy, and it is very dangerous,” said Dr. Darshan Singh Sehbi, a Dayton psychiatrist who has worked extensively with returning war veterans. “When you bring the veteran to the firing range, he could start reliving his past. A flashback could be triggered.”

David Meiring, 45, a Dayton Army vet with post-traumatic stress disorder, said it’s difficult to draw conclusions from the tragedy.

“I know the guy was trying to do the right thing,” he said, “but that’s kind of risky if you know someone is troubled. Going to the shooting range can be therapeutic for some vets, but you should get to know someone before doing that. You never know what someone’s triggers might be — whether it’s the smell of gunpowder or the firing of a gun. Something like that could have set him off.”

According to published reports, Kyle did not know Routh well, but he did know his mother, Jodi Routh, who had recently asked him to help her son, a former Marine who had released from the Dallas V.A. Medical Center just days before the shooting. Routh is currently being held in the Erath County Jail in Stephenville, Texas, on $3 million bond.

Meiring is a mechanic who is unable to work because of his PTSD. He attends a weekly veterans’ support group at the Dayton V.A. Medical Center. “Friends and family and support groups really helped me the most, and sometimes you need to talk to a professional about this stuff,” he said. “You need all of it. Without the whole chain you are missing a link, and that’s when you fall through.”

Meiring commends Kyle for trying to give back: “He was paying it forward.”

Sehbi said that people should not shy away from helping veterans as a result of this tragedy, but they should use sound judgment.

Sehbi is now in private practice, but for 12 years he counseled veterans at the Dayton V.A. Medical Center, leading a weekly support group for veterans with PTSD. He wishes that more veterans would utilize the mental health resources that are available locally. “Some vets may seem very strong and capable, while feeling a lot of turmoil inside,” Sehbi said. “They cannot share what they’ve witnessed even with close friends and family members. They try to go back to civilian life and forget, but often that doesn’t happen.”

More should be done to reach out to veterans when they return home from war, Sehbi said: “We should be more proactive and have a better system of keeping in touch. Some vets slip through the safety net because they’re doing fine on the surface. We provide help for those who come for help, but too often the person who doesn’t seek help is left out.”

Tom Bush Jr. of Riverside, 55, wishes he could enjoy hunting again. He wishes he could attend a funeral without startling at the 21-gun salute. “Personally, I can’t do it,” said Bush, who struggles with PTSD following his career with the Air Force security police.

But he applauds Kyle for his efforts and believes that some veterans have benefited from such an approach. “Chris Kyle was teaching vets to use guns for peaceful and pleasurable means,” said Bush, who had more than 30 deployments in 20 years. “He was showing vets how to go back to the fundamentals of enjoying it as a sport, a way of relaxing, and getting out of military mindset. Unfortunately, they had a vet with PTSD and this one wasn’t ready.”

Kyle authored a nonfiction bestseller, “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. History,” whose proceeds were donated to the families of two fellow SEAL members killed in combat.

Bush fully understands Kyle’s motivation for reaching out to veterans. “Mr Kyle was reaching out to other veterans in the best way he knew how, and I believe he was doing that to help himself as much as helping others,” he said. “I need to be around other vets, helping them to calm down when they have had a bad day or bad night. I can’t find peace unless I’m trying to help another vet.”

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