Gunman in Texas Air Force base killing had gone AWOL, then taken mental health exam
A former Green Beret and onetime FBI agent who committed suicide after attacking his commander at their Air Force base in San Antonio had received a military mental health evaluation after going AWOL last summer, his attorney confirmed Monday.
Tech. Sgt. Steven D. Bellino, 41, of Parma Heights, Ohio, is believed to have opened fire early Friday in a training building at Lackland Air Force Base, killing his squadron’s commander before apparently turning the gun on himself.
Lackland is best known for its role as the basic training site for the Air Force, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard. Bellino was in Air Force special operations training.
Air Force officials declined to discuss the case, citing their continuing investigation into what sheriff’s officials called a murder-suicide.
Bellino joined the Army after graduating from high school in 1992, training first as an Army Ranger at Ft. Stewart, Ga., then as a Green Beret at Ft. Bragg, N.C., according to his attorney, Daniel Conway. In 2002, he left the Army and joined the Army National Guard, serving with a special forces unit based in Ohio, according to Conway and military records.
During his time in the Army and National Guard, Bellino served multiple tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo and Kuwait, Conway said.
From 2004 to 2007, Bellino also worked as a civilian contractor with a private security firm, the lawyer said. In 2011, Bellino left the military, went to work as an FBI special agent in the New York office but resigned after less than two years, according to an FBI statement.
He then tried to reenlist in the Army or join the Navy, but eventually settled on the Air Force because it involved the least amount of red tape, Conway said.
Bellino took advantage of a program that allows veterans to assume jobs that are hard to fill, including special operations pararescue training. That made him a technical sergeant after serving for less than a year, the highest-ranking trainee in his group.
But shortly after Bellino arrived at Joint Base San Antonio on June 30, trainers found he had “physical problems,” especially swimming, said a source who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak about the case.
“There was a little bit of a shame culture down there,” the source said. “There were members of the staff there that were belittling him in a way that was borderline appropriate.”
On Aug. 3, the day he went absent without leave, Bellino’s troubles seemed to come to a head. During a water endurance test, the source said, an instructor made him repeat an underwater swim, saying he had failed. Later, the source said, the trainer ordered him to say — while being videotaped — that he had quit the training program.
After leaving Lackland, Bellino, who was single, spent about two weeks with family in Ohio before returning to the base and surrendering. He was charged Sept. 20 with having gone AWOL, assigned a military defense lawyer and set to face court-martial April 27.
In preparation for the court-martial, he underwent a mental health exam in December — known as a sanity board — by a military expert, said Conway, who declined to discuss the findings. Bellino’s military defense attorney later requested he be evaluated by an independent mental health expert, but Air Force officials denied the request.
Conway said he and his client agreed that instead of a court-martial, they would seek an administrative discharge including nonjudicial punishment, such as forfeiture of pay or a rank reduction.
The discharge was still being processed, Conway said, and it was unclear whether Bellino’s commander had approved it.
On Friday, Bellino came to the base on the pretext of accepting nonjudicial punishment, according to a blog cited by the San Antonio Express-News that has since been taken down.
When Bellino arrived at a training area in the base’s Forbes Hall with two Glock handguns, he encountered a noncommissioned officer, the Express-News reported. It was unclear how Bellino got the guns onto the base, where officials have said only military police are allowed to be armed and individuals are checked as they enter the gates.
His commander, Lt. Col. William A. Schroeder, 39, spotted Bellino with a gun and told the noncommissioned officer, a first sergeant, to run, the Express-News reported, citing the blog. Bellino fired an errant shot at the first sergeant, then fought with his commander, shooting him three times in one arm and once in the head, the newspaper said.
Both men were dead by the time Bexar County sheriff’s deputies found them in a first-floor office. Schroeder was a veteran officer who joined the Air Force in 1999 and led several special operations units in the last decade. He had been commanding the 342nd Training Squadron for two years.
Chief Master Sgt. Matthew Nugent, commandant of the Tactical Air Control Party schoolhouse at Forbes Hall, said Schroeder was killed by a disgruntled technical sergeant facing a disciplinary hearing, according to a Facebook group post cited by the Express-News.
“Know that Bill went out swinging,” Nugent wrote. “He selflessly gave his life to protect our [first sergeant] and countless others who were in the building.”
Schroeder is survived by his wife and two sons, ages 3 and 7.
Bellino’s family referred questions to Conway, who declined to comment further.
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