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A diverging portrait of the US Army sergeant accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers is emerging as records and interviews show a man appreciated by friends and family who won military commendations, yet faced professional disappointment, financial trouble and brushes with the law.
The deeper picture included details of how Robert Bales was bypassed for promotion, struggled to pay for his house and eyed a way out of his job at a Washington state military base months before he was accused of the nighttime slaughter in two Afghanistan villages.
While Bales, 38, sat in an isolated cell at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas’s military prison on Saturday, classmates and neighbours from suburban Cincinnati, Ohio, remembered him as a “happy-go-lucky” high school football player who took care of a special needs child.
But court records and interviews show the 10-year veteran — with a string of commendations for good conduct after four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan — had joined the Army after a Florida investment job went sour, had a Seattle-area home condemned, struggled to make payments on another and failed to get a promotion or a transfer a year ago.
His legal troubles included charges that he assaulted a girlfriend and, in a hit-and-run accident, ran bleeding in military clothes into the woods, court records show. He told police he fell asleep at the wheel and paid a fine to get the charges dismissed.
Military officials say that after drinking on a southern Afghanistan base, Bales crept away on March 11 to two slumbering villages overnight, shooting his victims and setting many of them on fire. Nine of the 16 killed were children and 11 belonged to one family.
“This is some crazy stuff if it’s true,” Steve Berling, a high-school classmate, said of the revelations about the father of two known as “Bobby” in his hometown of Norwood, Ohio.
Bales has not been charged yet for the shootings, which have endangered relations between the US and Afghanistan and threatened to upend US policy over the war.
His former platoon leader said Bales was a model soldier inspired by 9/11 to serve, who saved lives in firefights on his second of three Iraq deployments.
“He’s one of the best guys I ever worked with,” said Army Capt Chris Alexander, who led Bales on a 15-month deployment in Iraq. “He is not some psychopath. He’s an outstanding soldier who has given a lot for this country.”
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