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Chris Kyle, Among Deadliest American Military Snipers, Shot by Fellow Veteran

February 4, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Chris Kyle, a celebrated Navy Seal known as one of the deadliest snipers in U.S. military history and a best-selling author, was killed by a 25-year-old Marine veteran at a shooting range in Texas. Jeffrey Brown talks to Melissa Repko of the Dallas Morning News about Kyle's efforts to help other veterans rehabilitate after war.

JEFFREY BROWN: And to the compelling story of U.S. military veteran Chris Kyle.

Iraqi insurgents once dubbed Navy SEAL Chris Kyle the Devil of Ramadi, a man who served four tours of duty and gained a reputation as one of the deadliest snipers in U.S. military history credited with more than 150 kills. Insurgents even put a five-figure bounty on his head. It was never collected.

Last year, Kyle recounted his life as a sharpshooter in a bestselling book, “American Sniper.”

And, just two weeks ago, he spoke of the trouble many American troops have coming home and readjusting to civilian life.

RETIRED CHIEF PETTY OFFICER CHRIS KYLE, U.S. Navy: It’s honorable. And you’re doing it for the greater good. Then, all of a sudden, you don’t have an identity.

JEFFREY BROWN: On Saturday, 38-year-old Kyle and a friend, 35-year-old Chad Littlefield, were shot dead at a gun range outside Fort Worth, Texas.

SHERIFF TOMMY BRYANT, Erath County, Texas: Mr. Kyle works with people that are suffering from some issues that have been in the military. And this shooter is possibly one of those people.

JEFFREY BROWN: The alleged killer was identified as 25-year-old Eddie Ray Routh, who had served in Iraq as a U.S. Marine. He was apprehended and charged with two counts of capital murder.

Melissa Repko has been reporting on this story for The Dallas Morning News. She joins us now.

Melissa, thanks for joining us.

Before we get to what happened this weekend, tell us a bit more about Chris Kyle’s own story. He grew up there in Texas, right?

MELISSA REPKO, The Dallas Morning News: That’s right.

He grew up in Texas. And he mentioned in an interview with me last year that he dreamed of being a cowboy or becoming a person in the military. And he ended up joining the Navy SEALs and becoming a very successful sniper. He had a passion for Texas and he was also deeply Christian in his faith and was well-liked by his peers.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, he served with great distinction. He came back and he wrote this bestselling memoir of his time in Iraq. But he had his own problems adjusting to life back at home.

MELISSA REPKO: Yes, he did.

He mentioned that, when he got back, it was a jarring transition, the return to civilian life. He couldn’t connect as much with people who hadn’t experienced and seen what he had seen during his four deployments in Iraq, which led him to empathize with fellow veterans and want to help them.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so tell us about that work. Since 2009, I gather he’s been quite active in trying to work with other vets.

MELISSA REPKO: That’s right. He actually started a nonprofit that provided at-home exercise equipment to help them. But he would also take them out to the ranch to go hunting or shooting or just give them a break from some of the stresses of civilian life, especially those with post-traumatic stress disorder.

JEFFREY BROWN: And how extensive was that? Tell us a little bit more about that work.

MELISSA REPKO: Well, he would just go — he volunteered on some wounded warrior retreats, but he would also just spend some time.

Sometimes, he would be contacted by people who knew struggling veterans. And so he’d begin to mentor them and form a relationship with them.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, so what is known at this point about his death? What do we know about what happened?

MELISSA REPKO: What we know is that the three men were all going to the shooting range together. It was about 50 miles southwest of Fort Worth in a very remote location. They arrived at about 3:15. And their death is believed to have occurred around 3:30, according to officials.

And at some point, it’s believed that the man they were trying to help by taking him out to the range actually turned and shot them.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, what is known about Eddie Ray Routh?

MELISSA REPKO: Well, we know that he may — he may have been struggling with something. We don’t know for sure if he had post-traumatic stress disorder.

But just today, we have discovered a police report from Lancaster Police that indicates his parents had actually contacted police during — after an altercation when he was threatening to kill them and to take his own life. So he had had violent tendencies in the past. And it’s unclear — officials cannot confirm that he had post-traumatic stress disorder, but when they responded to that altercation, he told them that he was struggling to adjust after serving.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, I had seen reports. There are some reports that his — Routh’s mother had asked Kyle to work with her son. So, you’re saying that it looks like that might be the case? We just — we don’t know at this point?

MELISSA REPKO: Yes. That’s right. That’s right.

That’s what officials are saying. They believe that his mom, who was a longtime school teacher, heard about the work that Kyle was doing and somehow contacted him. And that’s how all three of them connected and that even prior to them going on the gun range, some neighbors said they had seen Kyle’s vehicle in the neighborhood. And it seemed like the two were forming some kind of relationship.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, it looks as though one possibility is that Kyle was working with Routh to help him, I guess.

MELISSA REPKO: Exactly. That’s what it appears to be, that he was trying to help him during a difficult time.

JEFFREY BROWN: So what happens next? What happens now?

MELISSA REPKO: Well, currently, Routh is actually in the jail. And he is being held on a three million dollar bond. Last night, we heard from the sheriff there that there had been an altercation also with jailers that led him to be Tased. They used a Taser gun on him because he seemed in distress.

And he’s actually on suicide watch currently. He’s going to be facing two counts of capital murder in the case. And they’re still trying to figure out a motive.

JEFFREY BROWN: And what are Chris Kyle’s friends saying about him today?

MELISSA REPKO: They’re saying that it is — the ones that I spoke to are just devastated, because he had survived so many dangers during his four deployments. He had been in harm’s way so many times as a sniper. He was pursued by insurgents in Iraq. And to come home and what appears to be from what officials are saying an act of kindness ended up ending his life.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Melissa Repko of The Dallas Morning News, thank you very much.