Tomas Young, Iraq war veteran and antiwar activist, dies at 34
Tomas Young, an Iraq War veteran-turned-activist who became one of the first veterans to publicly oppose the war, has died.
Young, who was paralyzed after being shot five days into his tour in Iraq, died Monday morning at a home in Seattle. His death was confirmed by coroner’s officials in King County and a co-director of a documentary about Young. He was 34.
Information on Young’s cause of death has not been released, pending toxicology results, according to Nick Fletcher, an investigator at the King County medical examiner’s office.
Young, a native of Kansas City, Mo., enlisted in the Army two days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, at the age of 21. He completed his basic training at Ft. Hood, Texas, and shipped out to Iraq. Young was riding through Sadr City in an unarmored, uncovered Humvee when he was shot through the spinal cord and paralyzed. He relied on a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
FOR THE RECORD
Nov. 12, 7:53 a.m. An earlier version of this post stated that Young was 22 at the time he enlisted in the Army. He was 21.
His experience was recorded in the documentary “Body of War,” produced and directed by Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro, which followed Young as he transformed from recovering veteran to antiwar activist.
“When we met Tomas, he was just beginning to find his voice,” Spiro told The Times on Tuesday. “Up until yesterday, he had his voice. He continued to speak his mind, and not allow people to forget what happened to him and so many others.”
Spiro said she has shown the movie to her students at the University of Texas at Austin, where she teaches film. “It’s always inspiring to young people because his story says that anybody can speak their mind and make a difference.”
Young said he had become disillusioned after landing in Iraq; he had enlisted in hopes of being sent to Afghanistan to help punish those responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
“If I had been injured similarly in Afghanistan, there would be no ‘Body of War’ film,” Young told The Times in 2008. “I would have taken my government stipend and shut up, and sat back in my house.”
Young became a spokesman for the early movement against the war in Iraq. But, at times, he seemed to bristle at his celebrity.
“It was the weirdest feeling,” Young told The Times in 2008, the day after he appeared at the South by Southwest festival, which showcased a music compilation tied to the documentary. “I’m like, OK . . . I’m just me. All I did was pick songs and make a movie. And say some things, you know.”
Young announced last year that he had decided to end his life, and would soon refuse his medications and feeding tube. He later told the Kansas City Star that he would no longer set a date for his death.
“I want to spend as much time as possible with my wife, and no decent son wants his obituary to read that he was survived by his mother,” Young told the Star in May 2013.
Survivors include his wife, Claudia Cuellar, and his mother, Cathy Smith.
For more breaking news, follow me @cmaiduc
Must-read stories from the L.A. Times
Get all the day's most vital news with our Today's Headlines newsletter, sent every weekday morning.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.