Questions abound 1 week after U.S. soldier allegedly kills Afghan civilians

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Story highlights

  • Sgt. Bales' family is "stunned" and stands by him, one of his lawyers says
  • Family friends who knew Bales growing up speak highly of him
  • Bales is accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers inside their homes last Sunday
  • Villagers demand the soldier be returned to Afghanistan to face justice

Afghans continued to grieve, and continued to fume, as a new day dawned on Sunday, exactly one week after a U.S. soldier -- described by some who knew him as "happy" and a "nice guy" -- allegedly went house to house, shooting dead 16 villagers.

Much to the villagers' disgust, decorated combat veteran Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is more than 7,000 miles away from where he is suspected of single-handedly carrying out the grisly attack.

Attorney Emma Scanlan said in a statement late Saturday that she and two other members of Bales' defense team plan "to spend several days meeting" with their client next week.

She said others have accurately cast Bales "as a level-headed, experienced soldier."

"Sgt. Bales' family is stunned in the face of this tragedy, but they stand behind the man they know as a devoted husband, father and dedicated members of the armed services," Scanlan said.

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Bales is accused of leaving a remote U.S. combat outpost on foot before dawn on March 10 and killing people in their homes in villages in the Panjwai district of Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province.

He arrived late Friday at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he is being held in solitary pre-trial confinement at the Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility, the Army said Saturday in a statement.

The chilling images of bloodied, limp bodies -- among the dead, nine children -- from that rampage are difficult to reconcile with positive recollections of some who know him growing up, as well as an official military account documenting his humanitarian battlefield exploits.

Bales attended elementary, middle and high school in Norwood, Ohio, a suburb of just over 19,000 people, located five miles northeast of Cincinnati, according to people who knew him.

Family friends who knew him growing up spoke highly of Bales. He played football and graduated in 1991 from Norwood High School.

"He was quiet," one woman said. "He's just a very nice person, not arrogant, just a nice guy."

He then attended and played football at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, two family friends said Saturday. Records indicate Bales later lived at multiple addresses in the Columbus area, not far from Ohio State University.

He joined the Army two months after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and was assigned in September 2002 to Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington, according to a brief summary released Saturday by the Army. It listed multiple decorations for Bales, including three Army "good conduct" medals.

He deployed to Iraq right after the 2003 invasion and then again in 2006, when he served 15 straight months as part of then-President Bush's so-called surge of 20,000 additional troops.

According to one of Bales' attorneys John Henry Browne, the soldier was wounded that tour and had to have part of his foot amputated.

An Army account recalled a 2007 incident in Iraq, when an operation to recover a helicopter that had been shot down near Najaf turned into more of a humanitarian one to help wounded civilians.

Bales, who was serving then as a team leader, said he was "proud" and his unit "discriminated between the bad guys and the noncombatants and then afterward we ended up helping the people that three or four hours before were trying to kill us."

"I think that's the real difference between being an American as opposed to being a bad guy, someone who puts his family in harm's way like that," he said in the account, posted online in February 2009.

The soldier went to Iraq a final time between 2009 and 2010, according to the military. This time, he suffered a traumatic brain injury after his vehicle flipped after striking a roadside bomb, his attorney said.

Bales deployed to Afghanistan in January with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division for his fourth combat tour.

Before then, he'd been living near Lewis-McChord with his wife and two young children in Lake Tapps, in a house that he and his wife purchased for $280,000 in 2006, according to records.

That two-story house was put on the market this week with a $229,000 asking price, according to realty records. It was vacant Friday afternoon, its front porch littered with boxes and children's toys.

Neighbor Cassie Holland described the Bales family as "happy" and "normal."

"I mean, we would go over there for birthday parties and they would come to my kids' birthday parties," she said. "I would describe (Bales) as super fun to hang around with, kind of the life of the party kinda guy. Super loving, great with his kids. I don't see how this has happened."

Bales and his family "were not happy" that he'd been deployed to Afghanistan on what ultimately became his fourth combat tour, his lawyer said, citing conversations with the soldier's family.

"He was told that he was not going to be redeployed," Browne said. "The family was counting on him not being redeployed."

According to excerpts of blog posts written by Bales' wife a year ago and published Friday by The Tacoma News-Tribune, the family was disappointed that Bales had not been promoted to sergeant first class.

"It is very disappointing after all of the work Bob has done and all the sacrifices he has made for his love of his country, family and friends," Karilyn Bales wrote. "I am sad and disappointed too, but I am also relieved, we can finally move on to the next phase of our lives."

The family was preparing to move last year and hoped to be stationed in either Germany, Italy, Hawaii, Kentucky to "be near Bob's family," or Georgia "to be a sniper teacher," she said, according to the News-Tribune.

On the homefront, public records show that Bales had a brush with the law in 2002, when he faced a criminal assault charge in a Tacoma court. He pleaded not guilty.

A judge ordered anger-management counseling for Bales, the Wall Street Journal reported. The case was dismissed, records show.

He has not yet been formally charged in relation to the Afghanistan killings, though the military has made a determination of probable cause that allows him to be detained.

The military has seven days to bring Bales in front of a magistrate and 120 days to take him to trial, said Greg Rinckey, a former judge advocate.

Neighbors and relatives of those killed, meanwhile, are demanding Bales return to Afghanistan to face justice.

"Punish him in Afghanistan. Put him on trial here and heal our broken hearts," one villager told Afghan President Hamid Karzai during a meeting with the victims' families on Friday.

At this meeting, Karzai suggested U.S.-Afghan relations were at a breaking point.

"It is by all means the end of the rope here," he said. "The end of the rope that nobody can afford such luxuries anymore."

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