Updated Monday, February 4, 2013 at 05:59 PM
Since retiring from the Navy SEALs, Chris Kyle, who was known as America’s deadliest sniper, would occasionally take fellow veterans shooting as a kind of therapy to salve battlefield scars.
Kyle, 38, author of the best-selling book “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History,” was with a struggling former soldier on just such an outing Saturday, hoping a day at a shooting range would bring some relief, said a friend, Travis Cox.
But Texas authorities said Sunday that for unknown reasons, the man turned on Kyle and a second man, Chad Littlefield, 35, shooting and killing both before fleeing.
“Chad and Chris had taken a veteran out to shoot to try to help him,” Cox said. “And they were killed.”
On Sunday, the police identified the shooter as Eddie Ray Routh, a 25-year-old veteran with a history of mental illness who had served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The police offered no information about a possible motive.
A spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety’s Highway Patrol Division, Sgt. Lonny Haschel, said in a statement that Routh shot the men at about 3:30 p.m. Saturday, at the Rough Creek Lodge, an exclusive shooting range about 50 miles southwest of Fort Worth.
Routh then fled in a pickup and was arrested Saturday night at his home in Lancaster, a southern Dallas suburb. He has been charged with two counts of capital murder, Haschel said.
Cox, the director of a foundation that Kyle created, said he was not acquainted with Routh, but said Kyle had devoted his life since his military retirement to helping fellow soldiers overcome post-traumatic stress.
In 2011, Kyle created the FITCO Cares Foundation, to provide veterans with exercise equipment and counseling. He believed that exercise coupled with the camaraderie of fellow veterans could help former soldiers ease back into civilian life.
“He served this country with extreme honor, but came home and was a servant leader in helping his brothers and sisters dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder,” Cox, also a former military sniper, said by telephone.
Kyle, who lived outside Dallas, had his own difficulties adjusting after retiring from the SEALs in 2009.
He was deployed in Iraq during the worst years of the insurgency, perched in or on top of bombed-out apartment buildings with his .300 Winchester Magnum.
His job was to provide “overwatch,” preventing enemy fighters from ambushing Marine units as they moved through Iraqi towns.
He did not think the job would be difficult, he wrote in his book, but two weeks into the war in Iraq, he found himself staring through his scope into the face of an unconventional enemy.
A woman with a child standing close by had pulled a grenade from beneath her clothes as several Marines approached. He hesitated, he wrote, but then shot.
“It was my duty to shoot, and I don’t regret it,” he wrote. “My shots saved several Americans, whose lives were clearly worth more than that woman’s twisted soul.”
Over time, his hesitation diminished and he became proficient at his job, and was credited for more than 150 kills.
He became the scourge of Iraqi insurgents, who put a price on his head and reportedly nicknamed him the “Devil of Ramadi.”
In his book, he describes taking out a fighter wielding a rocket launcher 2,100 yards away, a very long distance for a sniper and his farthest kill.
“Maybe the way I jerked the trigger to the right adjusted for the wind,” he wrote of the kill. “Maybe gravity shifted and put that bullet right where it had to be.
“Whatever, I watched through my scope as the shot hit the Iraqi, who tumbled over the wall to the ground.”
Kyle received two Silver Stars and five Bronze medals for valor.
Later he would describe his service in humble terms, preferring to talk not about the enemies killed, but the lives saved.
“I feel pretty good because I am not just killing someone, I am also saving people,” he said in a January 2012 interview with The Dallas Morning News. “What keeps me up at night is not the people that I have killed. It is the people I wasn’t able to save.”
His book, published in January last year, spent months on The New York Times best-seller list, and turned Kyle into a celebrity. He appeared on talk shows like “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.”
He also played a role in the NBC reality show “Stars Earn Stripes,” in which celebrities pair with elite soldiers on military-style missions.
For all his success, friends and fellow veterans described Kyle as a humble warrior and down-to-earth family man who loved his wife and two children.
In gatherings with other veterans, he would deflect the praise of the inevitable well-wishers and play up the achievements of his comrades.
“He wasn’t the American Sniper to all of his friends,” Cox said. “He was Chris Kyle and he was right alongside you. He was proud to be a veteran and he would do anything he could to serve veterans.”
PAUL MOSELEY / MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS
Retired Navy SEAL Chris Kyle.
Eddie Ray Routh