Family of Solider Killed at Camp Liberty Talks About Stress in Iraq

The family of a soldier who died in Monday's shooting at an Iraq stress clinic said today it believes its son mentioned the alleged shooter on the phone last weekend.

"On the conversation with my wife on Mother's Day, he said that he had met a sergeant, that he was, in his words, he was a very nice guy, he could deal with him, but he had some major issues. He was out there on the branch hoping for somebody to help him," said Richard Van Blarga, Jr. today at a news conference at the family's Federalsburg, Md., home.

Van Blarga's stepson, 19-year-old Michael Edward Yates Jr., was killed at Camp Liberty when a fellow soldier opened fire on fellow soldiers.

Sgt. John M. Russell was charged Tuesday with five counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault in the shooting.

Today Van Blarga also remembered his stepson as "very honorable" and talked about the recent stress he was feeling serving in Iraq.

"Like quite a few other military people, they've all dealt with the stress the best way they could," Van Blarga said. "He was due to go back to his unit today until this unfortunate event."

VIDEO: Stress Clinic Gunman Arrested

Of Russell, Van Blarga added, "He was probably under a lot of stress as well."

In addition to the five who died, four others were injured in the shooting, including Russell. The troubled soldier had six weeks left in his third deployment. But he was reportedly having problems before the incident. He was taken against his will for treatment at the combat stress center because of concerns about his mental health.

Russell, 42, had sent his mother flowers for Mother's Day and was eager to return home. But he had informed his wife in early April that he was having a dispute with two superior officers and recently told her he was having the worst day of his life, the alleged shooter's father said Tuesday.

"When the military turned against him, he didn't have any recourse. I guess he thought his life was over," Wilburn Russell told ABC's WFAA. "He's going to lose his house, everything, his retirement. I guess he just broke. He didn't know how to ask for help."

Wilburn Russell added that he was "heartsick" and said, "I'm furious. I know he was set up and they ruined him."

The alleged shooter's 20-year-old son John also spoke to WFAA, adding, "We were as close as we could be. Ever since I was 2, he's been in the Army."

"He wasn't an absent father," he added. "He was doing something good for himself. He loved it, talked highly about the Army, enjoyed what he did. ,,, It's unbelievable."

ABC News Had Recently Visited Stress Clinic

ABC News visited the stress clinic where the shooting occurred just days before the tragedy. Lt. Col. Beth Salisbury, who runs the clinic and gave ABC News a glimpse inside, was not hurt in the shooting, but two members of her clinical staff were killed, along with three soldiers awaiting treatment.

One of the clinical staff members who died was commander Charles K. Springle, whom ABC News had met on its visit. Springle, a 52-year-old from North Carolina, treated soldiers for combat stress, anger management and suicidal tendencies. Springle was married 26 years and had a son and a daughter.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...