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A Combat Soldier on Death Row?Tim King Salem-News.com
Prosecutors want to kill a three-tour combat veteran who was prescribed dangerous drugs by the same government that trained him to kill.
(ALTOONA, Pa.) - Somewhere along the way, Americans convinced themselves that you can train a soldier to kill, send him to war, then bring him home and deactivate the killer inside with a magical switch.
We learned during the Vietnam War, or re-learned more specifically, that it doesn't work that way. When you train thousands to survive in combat, a percentage will not easily shed those skills.
A highly decorated three-tour Iraq Army soldier named Nick Horner, a father of two beautiful children, snapped and did the unthinkable last year. The Iraq War vet went on an unprovoked shooting spree that left two people dead and a third injured.
The powers to be want to put this decorated Veteran to death, but this is a country where people like Charles Manson spend years in confinement for generations.
The worst part is that the U.S. Army never even admitted that Horner suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Yet they took his gun away and sent him packing home before his third tour was complete. People who knew him said he was a different person upon his return. It costs the federal government money every time it grants a PTSD claim.
In the months leading up to his trial, Horner was evaluated by a Hollidaysburg psychiatrist named Dr. Edwin Tan, who stated that the combat vet suffers from war-related post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, panic disorder and sleep problems. But the doctor stopped short of saying Nick Horner's crimes were directly related to his war experiences.
Testimony from court records indicates that April 6th started as a fairly normal for Nick Horner and his wife. According to Tan's court ordered report, Horner and his wife Windy dropped their kids off at school and then went to a Circuit City store. They also visited a computer repairman.
Then while stopping at Wal-Mart, Nick got into a verbal argument with another driver over a parking space. This led to an argument with his wife. Horner left and then robbed the Subway restaurant on 58th Street, killed Garlick and wounded another employee, Michele Petty, before killing Williams three blocks away.
Nick Horner told police he recalled entering the Holiday Bowl where he drank a pitcher of beer, but his next memory, according to what he told the doctor, was the police taser gun.
Death was nothing new or unusual for Horner or anyone else who was in Iraq at that time. Horner, who can't take loud sounds including helicopters and trains, talked about two fellow soldiers killed by a bomb dropped by am American Air Force plane. He told medical professionals that his PTSD began at this point.
Like other Iraq War vets, he was always on guard and his paranoia led to his choice to carry a gun. But Nick also was on a prescribed anxiety drug thae day of the murders.
Ignoring the Signs
A friend in the U.S. received a phone call from Iraq about Nick, during his third tour:
"A buddy of his that's a squad leader called me one time and said 'Your boy isn't doing too good over here.' They had to take his weapon a couple of times because he almost opened fire on what he thought was threats."
The same friend that said when he heard about the shootings at the Subway restaurant, he knew right away that Nick Horner had gone into combat mode.
"I saw the newscast and then I read the story. Right away I identified that Nick was doing what he was trained to do. He did a rear-door entry. Unfortunately the gentleman he ran into at the park must have been in some sort of zone and posed a threat. That's probably why he tried to take him out," the friend said.
As one of Nick Horner's friends who wrote to Salem-News.com said, what he did was wrong, but what Uncle Sam did to Nick Horner was wrong.
"Moreover, the government is clearly dishonest in denying that Nick's crimes are a result of his war experiences. Surely it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that Nick is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder."
That's the position of the prosecutors. The interesting part is that there probably aren't any members of this team who ever visited or served in Iraq. As a result, these attorneys have a profound lack of understanding that quite logically would block their full understanding of PTSD.
In a nation that fights wars without cause or justification, Nick Horner ultimately became a killer for lack of opportunity. He clearly knew he didn't want to return to Iraq a third time. He tried to tell the military, but the response was that he would be kicked out of he didn't go, and his family needed the money.
Denying the OBVIOUS
Nick Horner's friend says the 94th Engineering Battalion, 77th Company that Nick was a part of, was not fully ready for the last deployment.
"Nick did not feel he was fit to deploy to Iraq for his 3rd tour. Nick had requested to be seen by a Psychiatrist at the Post Hospital prior to deployment to evaluate his mental status because as Nick put it, 'He was having alot of really f#%*ed up dreams'."
His friend explains that Nick would talk about these "dreams" and how he would go into detail of seeing small children blowing up from bombs hidden in their clothes. The psychiatrist at the military post placed Nick on anti-anxiety medication and the dosage that were much higher than Nick should have been taking.
"While in Iraq, Nick began having adverse reactions to the medications. He came upon a group of civilians and was unable to determine in his mind that they were friendlies. He locked and loaded his weapon and was preparing to fire. His weapon was immediately retrieved by a fellow soldier. Upon returning to the FOB the Commander relinquished Nick of his weapon and ordered him to seek medical from the Combat Stress Team."
But the Army never agreed that Horner has PTSD, and the prosecutors are willing to overlook and sidestep hard evidence complied by the federal government.
Nick was told that if he could not be in Iraq, he did not deserve to be in the Army. He went through a series of medical appointments for the stress and anxiety disorders.
"He had been given numerous different medications with varying dosages, and at times became so drugged that he could not even get out of bed."
Nick's friend who wrote to us, says he started to wander aimlessly.
"He arrived at my home at one point and when I touched his shoulder he jumped and said, 'How the Hell did I get here'?"
"I said, 'Nick, you came where you felt the safest'."
"He told me he felt he was losing his mind. He was covered in Deer Ticks and he said he had no idea how he got to my house. Later to find out he had walked 3 miles through the woods in 100 degree weather. He had been at another friend's house and just walked away for no reason.
Another episode happened in the evening that is probably completely tied to Horner's war experiences.
On this night, Nick just got on a mountain bike and started riding down the street.
"He was found 10 miles away in a construction area. He had crashed the bicycle into a barrier and had flown over the handle bars and landed in a large, muddy hole that was at least 8 feet deep. He had no recollection of leaving his house or where he was going or anything. He was upset that he was muddy, and had injured his back and had a bump on his head."
The last major episode Nick's friend relates, deals with the time Nick Horner was driving, when he lost focus and forgot that he was driving.
"He swerved off the road and plowed into a parked motorcoach nearly killing himself. Again, he did not even know what happened."
Nick Horner's friend says this veteran returned from Iraq as a changed person. "He would try to smile, but you could tell it pained him. He would stare into space and not respond to anyone. He was lost, and he was scared of the future."
Horner also is reported to have had serious problems working with the local VA. He told his friend he felt like he was being treated like a number.
"He tried desperately to get them to listen, again going to many appointments and going through med changes. He was doing what he was supposed to do and the VA was not doing what they were supposed to."
Horner's friend says Nick had NO intention of robbing anyone or killing anyone or even hurting anyone.
A Different Take on the Story
"He was at the bowling alley to sign his wife and children up for a family bowling league because he felt that would only help strengthen their bond. When he left, he was taking the simplest route to his home. From the bowling alley to the rear of the Subway restaurant, something went wrong."
From what the friend understands, the rear section of this Subway store looks very similar to some of the buildings in Iraq that Nick was tasked with clearing including the brown metal door.
"Something triggered Nick and he approached the door cautiously. He BANGED on the door to investigate with his pistol drawn as if in a search mode. When the 19-year old opened the door, words were exchanged and Nick recognized the boy as a hostile and fired his weapon."
The friend says Nick entered the store using a sweeping movement until coming to the main section.
"Nick did NOT ask for money, the cashier assumed it was a robbery and filled a bag with the money and threw it to Nick. The female employee startled Nick and he fired. He left the store feeling it was secure and proceeded down a route familiar to him. A gentleman appeared suddenly and Nick fired. He searched the body to see if there was any threat from it. Retrieving mail and keys, he left the area. He was trying to return to his team."
In this version of the story, which has received little play, Nick Horner, in a blackout essentially, was trying to locate his team.
"He was confronted with Police Officers and recognized them as his unit. He struggled slightly and then surrendered realizing they were police. Nick did not know what happened until the next day when he woke up in jail and asked 'why am I here', unaware of what had happened," his friend said.
His friends and family say Nick has been in the jail since April 6th and has not received proper treatment.
"He has been refused medication on numerous occasions, denied clothing and denied general population. They have kept him in solitary confinement for most of his stay in the jail."
What it really comes down to, is whether or not Nick Horner's war experiences led him to commit two Murders and shoot a third person. Horner didn't have a plan, he didn't rob a bank or have a getaway car. What he did is tragic and he certainly deserves to be treated accordingly, but the death penalty will not achieve any goals.
What it does do is demonstrate that the government is willing to create killers, not maintain them, and then end their lives as an answer to the madness the government itself created. Maybe we should choose our wars more carefully, but it is too late for that. Killing Nick Horner is a little like killing every American who did their best serving in that dangerous, frightening place.
Federal Lies About PTSD
Salon.com published an article titled "I am under a lot of pressure to not diagnose PTSD", coincidentally two days later on April 8 2009, featuring an audio clip of a secret recording revealing that the Army and Veterans Administration are pushing medical staffs not to diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Army and Senate have ignored the implications according to Salon.com, and anyone paying attention to these developments knows this is consistent with the VA's pattern to date of absolutely and completely failing to fulfill its appointed mission. The agency needs funding greatly amplified if they ever want to seriously undertake that commitment.
The system simply hasn't been designed to work with consistency. Some VA centers in wealthy communities packed with retired military like Phoenix, Arizona, receive praise from the vets who use services there.
Other VA centers which see a lot more in the way of young veterans, are overwhelmed sometimes beyond description. The money within the VA is not always fairly distributed.
This is not to imply that there aren't a lot of qualified professionals in the VA. There are those fighting from within and their contributions are nearly invaluable.
The Internet is allowing us to break boundaries, and mounting public pressure will hopefully lead to vastly needed funding and improvements for vets.
Dr. Leveque says the cost of PTSD in our society carries an enormous price tag, that is if it is going to be effectively treated.
"It's going to cost a trillion dollars to settle these guys down. The war in Iraq has been different from anything the U.S. had. In 'Nam you went for 12 months and some went back for repeat tours, usually if they chose to. In this war they just keep being sent back over and over again."
Nick's sister Dawn believes the Army has failed her brother and the whole Altoona and Johnstown area.
"We thought the Army was taking care of his mental problems, we were wrong...They were only concerned about how much money they would lose if they had to treat him and all the other soldier that have PTSD!!! This a crime and we need to prevent this from happening again. Contact your Congressmen and women stand up and help us prevent this from ever happening again."
I explained to Dr. Leveque that some people believe the sounds of the bowling alley Nick had visited just before the Subway robbery, may have been what set the incident off.
Leveque said, "These guys, every person with this level of PTSD has his own trigger point where something sets them off. At this point he's got a hair trigger for PTSD and you don't know what he is going to do."
"As you know there are a lot of returning vets who are killing their wives. If these guys get a little drunk, that's probably the worst thing they can do is lose their inhibition."
There are no words to describe the tragedy that Nick Horner's represent. Sources report that at least 40 family members and friends of homicide victims have been present at the trial.
19-year old Scott Garlick, a senior at Hollidaysburg Area High School, was killed that day, as was 64-year old Raymond Williams, who was a retired insurance executive.
Sadly, many of our soldiers are not getting the mental help that they desperately need, and this is the worst possible result. Doctors in the military are being told not to diagnose PTSD in an effort to deny our soldiers benefits. Nick Horner was denied even having PTSD and that is ridiculous.
A death penalty for Nick Horner adds insult to injury to the plight of all combat veterans. Perhaps over a long sentence, much could be learned about people like Nick, and other tragedies could be avoided.
Here is the video report from WINK TV on the April 6th 2009 murders in Altoona, Pennsylvania:
Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor.
Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 in Afghanistan with Oregon troops. Tim recently returned from Iraq where he covered the war there while embedded with an Oregon Guard aviation unit. Serving the community in very real terms, Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website, affiliated with Google News and several other major search engines and news aggregators.
You can send Tim an email at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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