Aberdeen soldier among those charged in deathAttorneys for the defendants could not immediately be located. A sister of Staff Sgt. Andrew Van Bockel, Bretta Van Bockel, had no comment. Sgt. Van Bockel’s hometown is Aberdeen. Other soldiers’ relatives could not be reached.
NEW YORK (AP) — Even before the Army sent him to Afghanistan, supporters say, Pvt. Daniel Chen was fighting a personal war.
Fellow soldiers at a base in Georgia teased him about his Chinese name, crying out “Chen!” in an exaggerated Asian accent. They called him “Jackie Chen,” a reference to the Hollywood action star Jackie Chan. People would ask him if he was Chinese, even though he was a native New Yorker.
At one point Chen wrote in his diary that he was running out of jokes to respond with.
Then he was sent overseas, and the hazing began: Soldiers dragged him across a floor, pelted him with stones and forced him to hold liquid in his mouth while hanging upside down, according to diary entries and other accounts cited by a community activist.
On Oct. 3, the 19-year-old Chen was found dead in a guardhouse in Afghanistan with what the Army said was apparently a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
On Wednesday, the Army announced charges against eight soldiers in his death, saying Chen was a victim of illegal hazing. Five of those accused were charged with involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide. The alleged offenses also included maltreatment, assault and threats.
The military would not discuss the exact circumstances surrounding Chen’s death. But family members and community activists said they suspect the bullying may have driven him to suicide.
“Whether suicide or homicide, those responsible for mistreating Danny are responsible for his death,” said Elizabeth OuYang, a community activist who is representing his parents, Chinese immigrants who live near New York City’s Chinatown neighborhood.
Attorneys for the defendants could not immediately be located. A sister of Staff Sgt. Andrew Van Bockel, Bretta Van Bockel, had no comment. Sgt. Van Bockel’s hometown is Aberdeen. Other soldiers’ relatives could not be reached.
In addition to Van Bockel, the Army identified the other soldiers charged as 1st Lt. Daniel J. Schwartz, 25, of Maryland (no hometown was given); Staff Sgt. Blaine G. Dugas, 35, of Port Arthur, Texas; Sgt. Adam M. Holcomb, 29, of Youngstown, Ohio; Sgt. Jeffrey T. Hurst, 26, of Brooklyn, Iowa; Spc. Thomas P. Curtis, 25, of Hendersonville, Tenn; Spc. Ryan J. Offutt, 32, of Greenville, Pa.; and Sgt. Travis F. Carden, 24, of Fowler, Ind.
Van Bockel, Holcomb, Hurst, Curtis and Offutt were charged with the most serious offenses, including involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, and assault and battery.
Schwartz, the only officer among the accused, was charged with dereliction of duty.
The soldiers are still in Afghanistan but have been relieved of their duties and confined to a different base, the military said. The next step is a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence for a court martial. The proceedings are likely to be held in Afghanistan.
Eugene Fidell, an expert on military law and president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said he could not recall a similar criminal case. But he couldn’t say for certain whether this represents a first.
Fidell said bullying has been a recurring problem for the military.