Military sniper Chris Kyle had survived the dust-worn places where he had to worry about enemy fire — or even friendly fire — until this weekend.
Kyle, 38, an author and former Navy SEAL, was shot dead Saturday by an unemployed, 25-year-old Marine veteran, Texas officials said Sunday. Kyle’s friend Chad Littlefield, 35, was also killed. No one witnessed the shootings, authorities said.
The suspect, Eddie Ray Routh, used a semiautomatic handgun to shoot Kyle and Littlefield multiple times at a secluded gun range at the Rough Creek Lodge southwest of Fort Worth, investigators said at a televised news conference. Routh is in custody and is expected to face two capital murder charges.
Routh had enlisted in the Marines in 2006, deploying to Iraq in 2007 and to Haiti in 2010 for hurricane relief. He remains in the Marine Reserve.
After Kyle left the Navy in 2009, he wrote “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History.” During his four deployments to Iraq, he wrote, he’d recorded the most confirmed kills of any American sniper — more than 150.
Back in the States, Kyle was known to take troubled veterans to gun ranges as part of giving back — shooting and hanging out as a kind of therapy.
“The shooter is possibly one of those people,” Erath County Sheriff Tommy Bryant said at the news conference, hinting that Routh’s mother, a schoolteacher, may have reached out to Kyle to get help for her son. Officials couldn’t confirm whether Routh had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Routh appeared to be one of the nation’s numerous unemployed veterans, and Kyle was one of those who left the anonymity of military service and entered the public sphere.
Kyle’s autobiography was unapologetically politically incorrect: During one visit home between deployments, he got a tattoo of a crusader cross on his arm.
“I wanted everyone to know I was a Christian,” Kyle wrote. “I had it put in in red, for blood. I hated the damn savages I’d been fighting. I always will. They’ve taken so much from me.”
Kyle won adulation and a spotlight and appeared on the NBC reality show “Stars Earn Stripes,” in which “celebrities are challenged to execute complicated missions inspired by real military exercises.”
In an interview last year with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, Kyle claimed to have punched former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura in 2006 for “bad-mouthing the war, bad-mouthing Bush and bad-mouthing America.”
Kyle was president of Craft International, a military and law enforcement training company. In a statement lamenting the slayings, the company identified Littlefield as Kyle’s trusted friend and said they died trying to help “a troubled veteran.”
News of Kyle’s demise spread quickly through the Navy SEAL community, according to Rorke Denver, a reserve SEAL team lieutenant commander based in San Diego, who served with Kyle on SEAL Team 3 in Iraq.
“We’re such a small brotherhood that when something happens to anybody here or overseas, word travels fast,” Denver said Sunday.
Denver said the news was “really hard to believe,” and he called Kyle “one of our real champions and battle stars.”
“I knew Chris had been working with other veterans, folks with PTSD, trying to help them get better,” Denver said. “It’s hard to stomach that someone he was trying to help would turn on him.”
Denver said he had been fielding questions from civilians who couldn’t understand why Kyle would have taken someone with PTSD to a shooting range — but as a veteran, he understands.
“That type of shooting can actually be cathartic, calming,” Denver said, “letting your heart settle,” particularly for veterans who have just returned home after being accustomed to carrying weapons.
Officials said they didn’t have a motive for Routh’s attack. The three men apparently traveled to the gun range together in the same truck.
Authorities said they tracked Routh to his home in Lancaster, Texas, on Saturday evening, where police tried to persuade him to turn himself in. Instead, he made a break for it, and police gave chase.
He was arrested without a fight after officers spiked his tires on a freeway, Bryant said. A handgun was found in his home, authorities said. They wouldn’t comment on whether he had any other weapons.
Routh was being held in lieu of $3-million bail and didn’t have an attorney yet, officials said.
A recent sampling of 1,388 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans by the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Medicine reported that one-third had shown aggression toward others in the last year, with 11% reporting they’d used or threatened to use a knife or gun against another person, gotten into a fight or tried to rape someone.
PTSD, homelessness, substance abuse and joblessness were listed as risk factors.
In Kyle’s book, he hinted at the struggles he faced when combat slowed down: mentally replaying the times he’d been shot, brooding over his mortality, which he pushed away during combat. He said doctors put him on drugs to help him cope with the psychological stress he faced after his fighting days were over.
Kyle, who was married with two children, also recalled the tension his wife felt over his deployments: “If you die, it will wreck all our lives,” he quoted her as saying, adding that she was furious that “you would not only willingly risk your life, but risk ours too.”
But he wrote of being at peace with his work and his faith.
“When I die, God is going to hold me accountable for everything I’ve done on earth,” Kyle wrote at the close of his book, adding: “But in that backroom or whatever it is when God confronts me with my sins, I do not believe any of the kills I had during the war will be among them. Everyone I shot was evil. I had good cause on every shot. They all deserved to die.”
Pearce reported from Los Angeles and Hennessy-Fiske from Texas. Times staff writer Tony Perry in San Diego contributed to this report.