The day before Christmas, 22-year old Afghanistan veteran Christopher Sullivan was thrown a party to welcome him home to San Bernadino, California. His family and friends were relieved to see him on the road to recovery after surviving a roadside bomb the previous year that had killed six fellow soldiers. The clock was rolling toward Christmas when a fight broke out. Sullivan stepped into the fray to pull his friends apart when two shots rang out. One bullet flew through his spine, leaving the Purple Heart holding Army specialist in the hospital, paralyzed from the neck down.
In another tragic incident, Stanley Gibson, a disabled veteran suffering from PTSD was shot and killed by Las Vegas police on December 12, 2012, while sitting in his car. The veteran was confused and disoriented, according to reports, and had pulled into the wrong parking lot by mistake. Gibson and his wife had recently moved after losing their home and Stanley had missed a canceled appointment with the VA to renew his medications. After an hour standoff, police shot a beanbag through the rear car window in an effort to chase Gibson out of his car. A fellow police officer opened fire when he heard the shot, killing the ex-soldier. At first, authorities said that Jesus Arevalo, a nine-year police veteran, had misinterpreted the beanbag shot for gunfire from Gibson, causing him to open fire. However, recent reports state that supervisors had briefed Arevalo about the strategy to use a beanbag shotgun and pepper spray to force the disabled, mentally ill veteran from his car. The incident was caught on film by bystanders who had watched the one-hour standoff.
Also on Christmas Eve in Columbus, Ohio, 18-year Army veteran who was active in veterans and community issues, Mujahed Badruddeen, lost his life while trying to thwart a robbery at the nearby Advance Auto Parts store where he once worked. “Sarge,” was a frequent visitor to the store even though he had been fired by the company for chasing down and tackling a store robber. This time, as Badruddeen and two friends chatted in the parking lot after the store closed, two men approached them and demanded their wallets. At least one was clearly armed and Badruddeen, a military man skilled in martial arts, attempted to wrestle the gun from the assailant. In the process, Badruddeen was shot in the face, according to Columbus police. He died a few hours later.
In May, two-tour Iraq Marine Jose Guerena was shot 60 times by Pima County, Arizona, SWAT team members while his wife and 4-year old son hid in the closet. The raid was part of a 20-month narcotics investigation authorities say tied Guerena to other family members suspected of drug trafficking. No drugs apparently were found in Guerena’s home or in his body. Helmet video shows that the team played their siren for eight seconds shortly before parking the police cars outside the door. Guerena’s wife, Vanessa, heard alarming noises outside of their home and rushed to awaken her husband who had just fallen to sleep after a 12-hour shift at the local mine. Guerena told her to grab their son and hide in the closet as he grabbed an AR-15 rifle and pointed it toward the door just as it shattered in. After the fact reports say that a shot from the team splintered the door jam, causing police to open fire with 71 rounds in seven seconds directed at Guerena. Vanessa was dragged from the closet past her husband’s bleeding body before being allowed to call 911. Recordings indicate that she didn’t appear to know who the intruders were even as she begged 911 operators for the ambulance that arrived long after her husband had expired. SWAT members where cleared of wrongdoing, but in November Vanessa filed a $20 million wrongful death suit against Pima County, the towns of Marana, Sahuarita and Oro Valley and the officers involved in the raid. After the fact investigations show that Guerena’s gun had not been fired.
Former Marine and Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen was critically injured when a projectile fired by police at Occupy Wall Street protestors struck him in the head. The software engineer and political activist was hospitalized and sustained brain injury, but is recovering.
Patrick Casey served in the Army in Afghanistan for 12 months, but died as a hero at home. Casey was working toward an international-affairs master’s program at George Washington University. He and a female friend were walking to visit friends when they stumbled upon three people who were harassing people in a fast food joint. Someone pushed his friend and Casey, well over 6-foot tall and almost 300 pounds, moved between the group and his friend. Someone executed a quick sucker-punch that knocked Casey backward. He fell backward and hit his head on the sidewalk. The head injury resulted in death four dates later.
Even though violent crime is at its lowest in decades, it is ironic and tragic that those who appeared to have escaped the worst of war find themselves cast into violence at home. Some respond as the heroes they are, risking their lives for the values that sent them to fight for their country in the first place.
But others lost their grip and fell into the black pit of despair that is a common and constant companion to too many veterans. There are times in each of our lives when we are no longer able to go it alone. There is no shame in that. The shame should be felt by the rest of us if we fail to grab hold when we see a veteran who no longer has the strength to hold on.
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