An Iraq War veteran charged with murdering former US Navy SEAL sniper-turned author Chris Kyle and a friend turned a gun on the pair while they were at a Texas shooting range, authorities said.
Eddie Routh was arraigned yesterday over the deaths of Kyle, who wrote the best-selling book American Sniper, and Chad Littlefield, 35.
They were killed at a shooting range at Rough Creek Lodge, about 50 miles south west of Fort Worth.
Travis Cox, the director of a non-profit organisation Kyle helped found, said Kyle, 38, and Mr Littlefield, Kyle’s neighbour and “workout buddy”, had taken Routh to the range to try to help him.
Kyle is survived by his wife, Taya, and their two children, Mr Cox said.
“What I know is Chris and a gentleman – great guy, I knew him well, Chad Littlefield – took a veteran out shooting who was struggling with PTSD (post traumatic stress syndrome) to try to assist him, try to help him, try to, you know, give him a helping hand, and he turned the gun on both of them, killing them,” Mr Cox said.
Captain Jason Upshaw of the Erath County Sheriff’s Office said Routh had not made any comments that might indicate a motive.
“I don’t know that we’ll ever know. He’s the only one that knows that,” Capt Upshaw said.
Sheriff Tommy Bryant said Routh was unemployed and “may have been suffering from some type of mental illness from being in the military himself”.
He said he did not know whether Routh was on any medication or had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Routh is being held on one charge of capital murder and two charges of murder.
Capt Upshaw said Routh used a semi-automatic handgun, which authorities later found at his home. Authorities believe it was the gun used in the shootings.
The military confirmed yesterday that Routh was a corporal in the US Marines, serving in active duty from 2006 to 2010.
He was deployed to Iraq in 2007 and Haiti in 2010. His current duty status is listed as reserve.
A knock on the door at Routh’s last known address went unanswered yesterday. A for-sale sign was in front of the small, wood-framed home.
Kyle’s best-selling book, 'American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in US Military History', detailed his 150-plus kills of insurgents from 1999 to 2009.
Kyle said in his book that Iraqi insurgents had put a bounty on his head. According to promotional information from book publisher William Morrow, he deployed to Iraq four times.
Sheriff Bryant said Kyle, Mr Littlefield and Routh went to the shooting range at around 3.15pm on Saturday. A hunting guide at Rough Creek Lodge came across the bodies of Kyle and Mr Littlefield around 5pm and called emergency services.
After the shootings, Routh left the range in Kyle’s black pick-up truck, Sheriff Bryant said, first going to his sister’s home in Midlothian, about 25 miles south west of Dallas, where he told her and her husband what he had done. Routh left, the sheriff said, and the couple called the police.
Routh arrived at his home in Lancaster, about 17 miles south east of Dallas, at about 8pm Police arrested him after a brief pursuit.
Kyle’s FITCO Cares group, provides at-home fitness equipment for emotionally and physically wounded veterans.
“Chris was literally the type of guy, if you were a veteran and needed help, he’d help you,” said Mr Cox.
He described Littlefield as a gentle, kind-hearted man who often called or emailed him with ideas for events or fund-raisers to help veterans. He said he was married and had children.
“It was just two great guys, with Chad and Chris trying to help out a veteran in need and making time out of their day to help him. And to give him a hand. And unfortunately this thing happened,” Mr Cox said.
Sheriff Bryant said Routh’s mother “may have reached out to Mr Kyle to try to help her son”.
“We kind of have an idea that maybe that’s why they were at the range for some type of therapy that Mr Kyle assists people with. And I don’t know if it’s called shooting therapy, I don’t have any idea,” he said.
Lt Cmdr. Rorke Denver, who served with Kyle on SEAL Team 3 in Iraq in 2006, called him a champion of the modern battlefield.
Craft International, Kyle’s security training company, had planned a 2,950 dollar-a-head civilian training event at Rough Creek Lodge called the Rough Creek Shoot Out! From March 1-3.
The price included lodging, meals and shooting instruction. Kyle was due to teach the first class, called “precision rifle”.