Army brass calling the shots from Camp Salerno also understood what had to be, for them, the discomfiting news about the elite group of soldiers expected to live and fight by a Ranger Creed that reads, in part, "I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy, and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country."
According to one of the documents obtained by ESPN.com, an Army official flown in to join the platoon the day after the shooting as part of the April 25, 2004, debriefing process told Army investigators, "I think at that point people already knew that it was a fratricide."
He said, "So when I say 'people' -- [I mean] leadership, OK."
In the meeting three days after Tillman's death, however, chaos and unanswered questions dominated the warm night air as Mansfield and the rest of the unit tried to understand how a Ranger had killed the war's most-famous soldier.
As the meeting progressed, the young men took turns pitching their piece of the big picture. Words like "bad judgment" and "panic" were tossed about. Gossip and suspicion flowed freely.
Because of the gruesome damage done to Tillman's head by the gunfire, popular theory first focused on a soldier who'd manned a .50-caliber machine gun as the likely shooter, but Army documents showed that investigators later dismissed that idea.
That soldier left the Army when his enlistment ended and declined several interview requests by ESPN.com.
A few of the Rangers piped up, according to two soldiers in attendance that evening, to suggest Tillman had been overly aggressive when he took his position low on the desolate ridge.
In one of the Army documents, an officer assigned to observe the reaction of the Rangers during the debriefing session later told investigators, "A lot of them felt like his [Tillman's] actions that day had put himself and [Spc. Bryan O'Neal] and the Afghan soldier in peril that was unnecessary."
O'Neal, an 18-year-old soldier who had been positioned on the ridge just a few yards from Tillman during the firefight, sat quietly through most of the meeting.
Eventually, though, his few, riveting words brought a hush over the assembled platoon.
Another soldier at the session, Spc. Pedro Arreola, told ESPN.com that O'Neal, fighting back tears and shaking with emotion, said: "The only reason I am standing here is because Pat Tillman saved my life."
That night, O'Neal didn't detail for his fellow Rangers exactly how Tillman had saved him.
Later, according to a transcript of his interview with an Army investigator, O'Neal said he'd been out in the open and under intense fire while Tillman had what O'Neal described as "pretty good cover."
Tillman, O'Neal told the investigator, "wasn't really too much in danger," although the Afghan Military Forces soldier already lay off to the side, dead.
"I was watching them as they were shooting at me," O'Neal told the investigator, speaking about his fellow Rangers, "and I was watching the rounds when they were -- and Pat could look around -- and I was noticing that most of their fire seemed to be directed towards me. And he moved out from behind his cover to throw some smoke. … All I remember was him telling me, 'Hey, don't worry, I've got something that can help us.' And he popped a smoke [grenade], I guess, and that's when he got shot -- one of the few times he got shot."