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Officials Identify Soldier Suspected Of Shooting Afghan Civilians

A man identified as Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales (left) during a training exercise at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif.
Spc. Ryan Hallock, 28th Public Affairs Detachment
High Desert Warrior
A man identified as Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales (left) during a training exercise at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif.

Pentagon officials say Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is the soldier suspected of killing 16 Afghan civilians, including women and children.

While a profile of him is not yet detailed, now that his name has been made public one is beginning to emerge.

Bales is a 38-year-old father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash. with a good military record. His neighbors describe him as friendly and "full of life."

His lawyer has said that he's been injured twice and that this Afghanistan deployment was his fourth tour and he was adamant about going.

Bales has not been charged and U.S. officials say he has arrived at the prison Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where he will be held in pre-trial detention awaiting charges.

We'll have more on this story as it develops.

Update at 11:31 p.m. ET. Now In Prison:

Bales has arrived at a U.S. military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., according to a statement from the Army.

"Bales will be in special housing in his own cell and not in a 4-person bay. He will be afforded time outside the cell for hygiene and recreational purposes ... He will be afforded religious support,
if desired," the Army says.

The Army describes the prison as a "state-of-the-art, medium/minimum custody facility."

Update at 8:40 p.m. ET. 'An Affable Guy':

NPR's Martin Kaste is in Lake Tapps, Wash., southeast of Tacoma, where Bales and his wife own a home. Martin said that he had talked to one neighbor, who described him as "full of life" and "very friendly."

The neighbors, said Kaste, seemed as though they had gotten a briefing about how to handle the media.

Kaste said the soldier's family, his wife and two small children, left their home earlier this week. Martin said he asked a neighbor who knew him if Bales had a drinking problem. The neighbor said he didn't see any signs of that.

If you remember, defense officials have said Bales was drinking alcohol before he left the base and went on a shooting spree.

Update at 8:27 p.m. ET. Criminal Assault Charge:

A public records search run by our library turned up a misdemeanor criminal assault charge.

The Tacoma News Tribune said that charge was filed in the Tacoma Municipal Court.

"The charge was later dismissed after Bales completed an anger management assessment, had no other law violations in six months and paid a $300 fine, court records show," the News Tribune reports.

Update at 8:05 p.m. ET. Bales' Army Career:

NPR's Tom Bownman tells our Newscast unit that Bales received a Combat Infantryman Badge, which is awarded to soldiers who personally fought in active ground combat. Bales also received six Army Commendation Medals for "meritorious service," but there were no records of any valor awards including any Purple Hearts.

His lawyer has said that he was injured twice during his service, but Tom says that doesn't necessarily mean he would receive a Purple Heart.

Update at 7:52 p.m. ET. Bales' Training:

In photographs published by the High Desert Warrior, the publication of the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is shown during training exercises in which the soldiers talked to mock Afghan civilians to try to obtain information about the Taliban.

The pictures appeared in the Sept. 1, 2011, edition of the newspaper, which means it was training for his deployment in Afghanistan.

The edition of the newspaper was removed from the newspaper's site. But a cache of it is still kept by Google. That newspaper is where the picture at the top of this post comes from.

Update at 7:09 p.m. ET. What's Next:

NPR's Tom Bowman tells our Newscast Unit that the next step is for the government to charge Bales and after that he will face what's known as an Article 32 hearing, which is the military equivalent to a grand jury. That will decide whether there is enough evidence for a court-martial.

Update at 6:59 p.m. ET. A Bit More Background:

Earlier today, Mark rounded up what we know about Bales:

— "When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues — he just snapped," a "senior American official" tells The New York Times.

— The 38-year-old soldier's Seattle-based defense attorney "says the possibility that his client suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by injuries and multiple combat deployments will be foremost among the issues his team will explore," The Seattle Times writes.

— Attorney John Henry Browne, who has spoken to his client by telephone, also said the soldier (who has not been identified) had a day before seen a friend get a leg blown off near their base in southern Afghanistan, NPR's Martin Kaste tells our Newscast Desk.

— And Browne said the soldier was unhappy about being deployed to a combat zone for the fourth time.

The soldier was moved from Afghanistan to Kuwait earlier this week — a decision that has angered Afghan officials. According to the Times, he may be moved again — to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas — as soon as today.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.