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Hearing starts in clinic rampage

Soldier accused of killing 5 in ’09

Army Sergeant John Russell, in photo made available by his family, had been undergoing counseling. Army Sergeant John Russell, in photo made available by his family, had been undergoing counseling. (Associated Press)
Associated Press / August 9, 2011

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FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. - Witnesses at a military hearing for a US soldier accused of shooting and killing five fellow service members in 2009 at a mental health clinic in Iraq testified yesterday that Army Sergeant John Russell was frustrated at the care he was receiving.

The testimony came in the first day of a hearing at Fort Leavenworth on whether Russell will face a military trial. He is charged with five counts of premeditated murder, two counts of attempted premeditated murder and one count of assault.

A former Army Reserve psychiatrist testified that Russell was clearly angry and irritated during a brief encounter they had on May 11, 2009, the day of the shootings. Russell had been ordered to seek counseling after reporting to his commander earlier in the day that he was suicidal.

Russell is accused of carrying out the deadliest act of soldier-on-soldier violence during the war in Iraq. The case brought attention to the issues of combat stress and morale as troops increasingly served multiple combat tours.

Russell had gone to counseling to deal with combat stress, but an investigation found lapses in how the military monitored him and how authorities responded once the shooting began at a base on the edge of Baghdad.

Killed in the shooting were Navy Commander Charles Springle, 52, of Wilmington, N.C., and four Army service members: Private First Class Michael Edward Yates Jr., 19, of Federalsburg, Md.; Dr. Matthew Houseal, of Amarillo, Texas; Sergeant Christian E. Bueno-Galdos, 25, of Paterson, N.J.; and Spc. Jacob D. Barton, 20, of Lenox, Mo.

The rampage prompted the military to conduct an investigation, resulting in a 325-page report that was critical of the way the military was handling mental health issues while soldiers were deployed and how they were treated.

Russell, who was assigned to the 54th Engineer Battalion of Bamberg, Germany, was near the end of his third deployment when the shooting occurred.

According to the report, Russell was on his fourth visit to the clinic when the appointment was cut short because he became uncooperative. Military police were called in and ordered him returned to his unit.

Less than an hour later, he grabbed an M-16 rifle from a fellow soldier, stole a white Ford Explorer SUV and returned to the counseling facility, according to the report. As the shooting began, a soldier in another room of the counseling facility reported hearing repeated gunshots and scrambled out of a window to safety.

Witness reports taken after the shooting described Russell as paranoid and angry in the days leading to the shooting, saying his behavior was “deteriorating.’’

In the report, Russell’s unit acknowledged that it lacked the policies and procedures to effectively guide or treat soldiers who were suffering from combat stress or deemed at-risk of incident.

Russell, who is originally from Texas and grew up near a town called Tom Bean about 60 miles north of Dallas, is being held at the military’s Joint Regional Confinement Facility at Fort Leavenworth. He previously was held at a mental health facility in North Carolina for treatment before being moved to the Kansas post.

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