U.S. Soldier Suspected of Killing Fellow Troops at Camp Liberty

His gun was taken away earlier in the day after argument at stress clinic.

ByABC News
May 11, 2009, 10:53 AM

May 11, 2009— -- An American soldier suspected of killing five U.S. soldiers at a clinic at Camp Liberty today had been disarmed earlier after a dispute at the facility but came back with another weapon, a Defense official told ABC News.

The soldier, who is in custody, had gone to the clinic earlier in the day and got into a verbal altercation with someone there, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

After the soldier left the clinic, someone in his chain of command took away his personal weapon for his own protection because he was in an unstable situation, the official said.

The soldier later obtained another weapon, however, and returned to the clinic.

Employees of the stress clinic near the Baghdad airport, as well as those seeking psychological treatment, were among the dead, officials told ABC News.

An Army official also said four others are wounded, including the alleged shooter. It is not yet clear if his wounds were self-inflicted or if he was shot by someone else.

ABC News has also learned the alleged shooter was on his third deployment and was recently referred for mental health issues, though he had not previously sought help for combat stress, according to a senior Defense official.

A February 2008 study by the U.S. Army Medical Command found that male noncommissioned officers on their third or fourth deployments were more than twice as likely to be suffering from mental health issues than those on their first deployment.

Today Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the deaths at Camp Liberty will receive the highest level of attention from the U.S. government.

"We are still in the process of gathering information on exactly what happened," Gates said this afternoon. "But if the preliminary reports are confirmed, such a tragic loss of life at the hands of our own forces is a cause for great and urgent concern. And I can assure you that it will get this department's highest priority attention."

"Any time we lose one of our own, it affects us all," said Multi-National Corps Iraq spokesman Col. John Robinson in a Monday statement. "Our hearts go out to the families and friends of all the service members involved in this terrible tragedy."