On Oct. 3, Chen was found dead in a guard tower at a small combat outpost in Kandahar province. He was killed by an “apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound,” according to a statement by the NATO command in southern Afghanistan.
Although the exact circumstances of his death are unclear, advocates speaking for his family said Wednesday that regardless of who fired the bullet that killed Chen, the soldiers who allegedly mistreated him are responsible.
“Whether suicide or not, the actions of these people led to his death, and they must be prosecuted for killing him,” said Liz OuYang, a Chinese American activist who pushed for an investigation of Chen’s death. “There can be no plea-bargaining — they must be tried in the death of Danny Chen.”
After more than two months of agonizing over the family’s loss, “it’s of some comfort and relief to learn that the Army is taking this seriously,” said Chen’s mother, Su Zhen Chen, in a Manhattan news conference organized by OuYang. Speaking through an interpreter, she said she hopes that “the truth will come out and that what happened will not be repeated.”
The soldier’s father, Yen Tao Chen, said the military’s action “gives us some hope.”
Military officials declined Wednesday to release documents detailing the charges against the soldiers and did not give an account of the events that led to Chen’s death. But a spokesman for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command said the probe into how Chen died includes “the circumstances leading up to his death.”
The Army said 1st Lt. Daniel J. Schwartz, Staff Sgt. Blaine G. Dugas, Staff Sgt. Andrew J. Van Bockel, Sgt. Adam M. Holcomb, Sgt. Jeffrey T. Hurst, Spec. Thomas P. Curtis, Spec. Ryan J. Offutt and Sgt. Travis F. Carden had been charged with counts that include dereliction of duty, making a false statement, assault, negligent homicide and reckless endangerment.
Reached Wednesday, some family members of the accused said they were shocked to hear of the charges.
Sheila Dugas, the mother of Blaine Dugas, said the allegations are “completely out of character” for her son. “He was always just taking care of his boys, his troops.”
Bretta Von Bockel, hearing the news about the accusations against her brother for the first time, said she could not believe it. “We worry about him every day,” she said.
Rarely have service members been charged in connection with a comrade’s suicide. If Chen did take his own life, he would be the second Asian American known to have done so this year after apparently being mistreated by his comrades. Marine Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, 21, shot himself April 3 after being hazed the night before by fellow service members, the Marine Corps Times reported.