Camp Liberty Shooting: Alleged Shooter's Dad Says Soldier 'Just Broke'

Sgt. John M. Russell charged in shooting of five people at Camp Liberty clinic.

ByLuis Martinez and Martha Raddatz
May 12, 2009, 10:53 AM

May 12, 2009— -- Sgt. John M. Russell, the U.S soldier suspected of killing five of his peers Monday at a military stress clinic in Iraq, 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 today.

"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."

John Russell, 42, was charged today with five counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault in the shooting at Camp Liberty, a military official told reporters Tuesday.

The troubled soldier had just 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 due to concerns about his mental health.

Watch "World News with Charles Gibson" TONIGHT at 6:30 p.m. ET for the full report.

Five people were killed Monday and another four were injured at the very same stress clinic that ABC News visited just days before the shooting. 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, who 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.

Today a military official provided more details about the shooting, explaining that Russell was disarmed last week. But on Monday he beat up a fellow soldier who took him for treatment and stole his weapon on their drive away from the clinic.

Russell then headed back to the stress center, the official said. The soldier who was forced from the car called military police to warn them to call the stress center, but the police arrived too late: They could hear the gunfire over the phone as they called ahead to warn others of the problem.

"We were as close as we could be -- ever since I was 2, he's been in the Army," Russell's 20-year-old son John said today.

"Everything seemed fine, no indication that he was having any problems," he added.

Army Suicide Spike

Weapons are routinely taken from people inside the Camp Liberty stress clinic, so those killed during the incident were not armed.

"Their weapons are taken for safety, and we secure those here for the safety of our staff and themselves," Salisbury recently told ABC News.

Centers like the stress clinic at Camp Liberty are part of a response to a dramatic spike in Army suicides, with a record 143 suicides last year alone.

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 deployments.

Indeed, while demands on soldiers may be diminishing, mental stress remains. Salisbury said soldiers are encouraged to monitor their peers.

At a Senate hearing today, Army Secretary Pete Geren and chief of staff Gen. George Casey diverged from a discussion of the Army's budget to weigh in on what is being done for soldiers like Russell.

Geren said the Army was moving in the right direction, but acknowledged, "This is a very stressed force."

He cited increasing the amount of time in between overseas deployments as a major Army goal to help support families. Geren said trouble with relationships tops the list of problems that can lead to suicide, much as in the civilian world, and added that spending time with their families can be a crucial way for soldiers to relieve stress.

"When you have the kind of separation that our soldiers are experiencing from their families, some soldiers on their third, fourth and fifth deployment, it's obvious that that's going to put a relationship under strain and, in some cases, push a family to the breaking point," Geren said.

Gen. Casey said it isn't true most soldiers suffer from post traumatic stress disorder following combat, instead making the point that "the vast majority of people that go to combat have a growth experience because they are exposed to something very, very difficult and they succeed."

Casey said there is a program underway to train non-commissioned officers so they can share their skills for coping with combat with fellow soldiers. The goal, he said, is to stress mental fitness as much as the Army stresses physical fitness.

Defense Department and White House Reflect on Tragedy

On Monday, Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, said the shooting would be investigated to determine whether multiple deployments played a part in the shooting.

"It speaks to the issue of multiple deployments, increasing dwell time, all those things that we're focused on to try to improve, to relieve that stress," Mullen said.

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

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Camp Liberty deaths would 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 Monday. "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."

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said President Obama would meet with Gates about the shooting.

"He was shocked by the news of this incident and will press to ensure that we fully understand what happened at the clinic and that we are doing everything we can to ensure that our men and women in uniform are protected," Gibbs said Monday.

As of Tuesday, 12 U.S. service members have been killed or died in Iraq in the month of May, including the five who died in the shooting at the clinic.

Monday's incident is not the first time a U.S. soldier has been suspected of harming his peers. In March 2003, Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar killed two and wounded 14 others in a grenade attack in Kuwait in the days leading up to the start of the second Iraq War. Akbar was later convicted and sentenced to death.

ABC News' Mazin Faiq, Kate Barrett, James Hill and WFAA contributed to this report.

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