Father Says Army 'Broke' Soldier Accused of Killing Five Fellow Troops in Iraq

May 13, 2009 - 4:18 AM
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Wilburn C. Russell, 73, wipes his eyes after talking to reporters in front of his son’s house in Sherman, Texas, on Tuesday, May 12, 2009. U.S. Army Sgt. John Russell is accused of killing five fellow troops at their base in Iraq. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Sherman, Texas (AP) - The father of a U.S. soldier accused of killing five fellow troops in Iraq said his son "forfeited his life" but the military bears some responsibility for the rampage.
 
Wilburn Russell said Tuesday that 44-year-old Army Sgt. John M. Russell wasn't typically a violent person, but counselors "broke" him before gunfire erupted in a military stress center Monday in Baghdad.
 
"John has forfeited his life. Apparently, he said (to his wife), 'My life is over. To hell with it. I'm going to get even with 'em,'" said the elder Russell, 73.
 
His father said the younger Russell, an electronics technician, was at the stress center to transfer out of active duty. He said his son was undergoing stressful mental tests that he didn't understand were merely tests, "so they broke him."
 
"I hate what that boy did," said the elder Russell, speaking in front of the two-story house his son was buying with his German wife in a new subdivision. "We're sorry for the families, too. It shouldn't have happened."
 
Excerpts of his military record, obtained by The Associated Press, show Sgt. Russell previously did two one-year tours of duty in Iraq, one starting in April 2003 and another in November 2005. The stress of repeat and extended tours is considered a main contributor to mental health problems among troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
Sgt. Russell, who is facing charges of murder and aggravated assault, was about six weeks from the end of his third tour of duty in Iraq, his father said. Wilburn Russell said his son e-mailed his wife in Germany early this month, telling her officers threatened him during what he called the two worst days of his life.
 
"His life was over as far as he was concerned," said the elder Russell, who didn't know whether his son was being disciplined or facing a discharge. "He loved the military."
 
The soldier's son, John M. Russell II, said he has communicated with his father by e-mail regularly. In the last message he received -- April 25, the day after his 20th birthday -- the younger Russell said his father sounded normal and planned to be back in Texas to visit in July.
 
"He's not a violent person," the son said. "He's just a loving, caring guy. He doesn't like to see anyone get hurt. For this to happen, it had to be something going on that the Army's not telling us about."
 
Sgt. Russell grew up in a rural, unincorporated area of Grayson County and graduated from Tom Bean High School in 1985. Records show he entered the Army National Guard in 1988 and served in the Guard until 1994, when he became an active duty soldier. His military record shows Russell served in Serbia through the last half of 1996 and Bosnia and Herzegovina in the last half of 1998.
 
He lives with his wife in Germany, where he's been for most of the past 10 to 15 years, but comes home a couple times a year, his father said.
 
The elder Russell said his son went active-duty after working various maintenance jobs around Sherman, a town of about 35,000 located about 60 miles north of Dallas. He'd also had a divorce and a few minor criminal scrapes in his hometown before enlisting.
 
When Russell's ex-wife sued for divorce in 1991, she obtained a temporary restraining order against him and an order withholding earnings for child support.
 
In an affidavit attached to the divorce petition, Denise Russell said her husband had committed "acts of family violence" and should be barred from coming within 200 yards of her or their son, then 2 years old. The document specifically cited an incident in which John Russell allegedly took the child after a confrontation with Denise Russell's mother.
 
"During this time, respondent physically attacked my mother, age 58, hitting her on the shoulders and about the head," the affidavit stated.
 
A call and visit to Russell's ex-wife weren't answered Tuesday.
 
In 1993, a month after the divorce decree was issued, Russell was charged with misdemeanor assault by threats, Grayson County online records show. The matter was later dropped.
 
Jack McGowen, listed as Russell's attorney for the divorce as well as the threat case, said Tuesday he couldn't recall either matter.
 
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Associated Press Writers Danny Robbins and Jeff Carlton in Dallas, Pauline Jelinek in Washington and AP researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed to this report.