A soldier in the same ambush as former POW Jessica Lynch was not killed in action but captured by Iraqi fighters and then executed, officials said.
The family of Sgt. Donald Walters, 33, of Salem -- which had pressed officials for an investigation of his death -- learned the new information from the Oregon National Guard. Guard officials released the details to the public Thursday, more than a year after the March 23, 2003, ambush.
The killing is being investigated as a war crime, and suspects have been identified. Their names have not been released because the investigation is continuing, said Kay Fristad, a Guard spokeswoman.
In March, the Army posthumously awarded Walters the Silver Star for gallantry with marked distinction. He also was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. This week, he was awarded a POW medal.
The Pentagon investigated Walters's death after his mother, Arlene, filed Freedom of Information requests. She believed the Army had not given her son credit for actions first attributed to Lynch, such as fighting until his ammunition ran out.
"He was executed -- shot twice in the back," Maj. Arnold Strong, a Guard spokesman, said in a telephone interview Thursday. "An Iraqi ambulance driver witnessed six Fedayeen rebels standing outside a building guarding him while he was still alive. That same witness evacuated his dead body to a hospital."
Investigators, Strong said, "have a pool of suspects," presumed to be members of the Fedayeen paramilitary force who captured Walters. Lynch and others were taken captive by different Iraqi forces. Lynch was rescued from an Iraqi hospital April 1, 2003, and seven others captured in the ambush were freed 12 days later.
Defense investigators confirmed the account by matching Walters's DNA to blood on the wall where he was executed, Strong said. Walters died from two gunshot wounds to the back, fired from more than 20 feet away, according to Strong's account of the investigation findings.
Walters's fate drew attention because the details of his actions remarkably resemble a story circulated in The Washington Post and other news media, based on anonymous sources, describing how Lynch had fought until her ammunition ran out.
After her rescue, Lynch, of Palestine, W.Va., said she did not fire a shot. Her injuries resulted from a Humvee crash during the firefight in the Iraqi town of Nasiriyah, just days into the war.
Like Lynch, Walters had blond hair. His family and others have said that early reports of a blond soldier bravely fighting off Iraqis may have been mistakenly construed, possibly because of an erroneous translation of Iraqi radio transmissions.