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Sgt. charged in shooting deaths of 5 at Liberty

May. 12, 2009 - 03:13PM   |   Last Updated: May. 12, 2009 - 03:13PM  |  
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The Associated Press reported May 12 that one of the victims of the Camp Liberty shooting was Michael Edward Yates Jr., 19, of Federalsburg, Md. In a photo provided by his family, he is shown here with his son, Kamren. (COURTESY OF YATES FAMILY VIA STAR-DEMOCRAT (EASTON)

A sergeant from the Bamberg, Germany-based 370th Engineer Company, 54th Engineer Battalion, has been charged with shooting and killing four soldiers and a naval officer Monday at Camp Liberty, Iraq.

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A sergeant from the Bamberg, Germany-based 370th Engineer Company, 54th Engineer Battalion, has been charged with shooting and killing four soldiers and a naval officer Monday at Camp Liberty, Iraq.

Sgt. John M. Russell, 44, first joined the Army National Guard in 1988; he went into the active Army in 1994. He is charged with five counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault.

Russell, who was on his third Iraq deployment, remains in custody in Iraq.

U.S. officials in Iraq also revealed that two of the five service members killed were officers, one an Army doctor and the other a Navy social worker who worked with Marines on Camp Lejeune, N.C. Both were assigned to the 55th Medical Company at the Liberty Combat Stress Control Center.

The Navy social worker, Cmdr. Charles K. Springle, 52, of Wilmington, N.C., had been sent to the 55th Medical Company in Iraq as an individual augmentee.

The other victims were enlisted soldiers.

The Associated Press reported late Tuesday that one of the soldiers slain was Michael Edward Yates Jr., 19, of Federalsburg, Md.

AP also identified the Army doctor as Matthew Houseal of Amarillo, Texas.

Special agents from Army Criminal Investigation Command continue to investigate the shootings.

The Army also has initiated an AR 15-6 investigation to determine if there are adequate mental health facilities in Iraq, said Lt. Col. David Patterson, a spokesman for Multi-National Corps-Iraq.

The suspect was referred to counseling the week before the shootings and his commander determined that it was best for him not to have a weapon, said Maj. Gen. David Perkins, a spokesman for Multi-National Force-Iraq.

According to an Army official who spoke on condition of anonymity, preliminary reports show the suspected shooter was unarmed when he was escorted to the combat stress clinic at Camp Liberty, a sprawling U.S. base near Baghdad's international airport. Once inside, he got into a verbal altercation with the staff and was asked to leave. The soldier and his escort got back into their vehicle and began to drive away, according to the Army official.

At some point during the drive, the soldier got control of his escort's weapon and ordered the escort out of the vehicle, the Army official said. The soldier then drove back to the clinic, walked in and began shooting, the official said.

Soldiers from the 55th Medical Company provided immediate counseling for those who witnessed the shooting and were at the center at the time of the incident, Perkins said.

Army reports show five people, four soldiers and a naval officer, were shot. Their identities were not released pending notification of their families.

"Anytime we lose one of our own, it affects us all," MNC-I spokesman Col. John Robinson said. "Our hearts go out to the families and friends of all the service members involved in this terrible tragedy."

According to Army records, Russell, of Sherman, Texas, first deployed to Iraq in April 2003. He returned for a second tour in May 2005. Before that, he deployed for six months in 1996 to Serbia and for seven months in 1998 to Bosnia.

During a press briefing Monday afternoon at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed his "horror and deep regret" over the shooting, adding that officials are still in the process of gathering information on exactly what happened.

"Such a tragic loss of life at the hands of our own forces is a cause of great and urgent concern," he said.

When asked if the suspected gunman had been deployed multiple times, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday he did not have that information. However, he said, the tragedy occurred while service members were seeking help at the clinic.

"It does speak to me for the need for us to redouble our efforts in terms of dealing with the stress [of combat]," Mullen said. "It also speaks to the issues of multiple deployments [and] increasing dwell time."

The death toll from the Monday shooting was the highest for U.S. personnel in a single attack since April 10, when a suicide truck driver killed five American soldiers with a blast near a police headquarters in Mosul, in northern Iraq.

Related reading

* USA Today reporters discuss Liberty shooting, stress clinics

*">Father says son accused in shooting snapped

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