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The fatal intersection of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and the Marine veteran who killed him

STEPHENVILLE, Tex. – The Rough Creek Lodge and Resort is a remote, 11,000-acre luxury vacation spot where Chris Kyle had helped design the rifle range. It was a place where the former Navy SEAL, depicted in the recent movie “American Sniper,” hung out with fellow veterans, some of them struggling to find their places in civilian life. They bonded over a shared passion: shooting.

And Rough Creek was the place that marked the fatal intersection of two veterans of the war in Iraq: Kyle, often called the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history, and Eddie Ray Routh, a Marine Corps veteran who repaired small arms but never saw combat.

Kyle’s final day — never fully understood and only glancingly depicted in the Clint Eastwood-directed movie — has been drawn in great detail at Routh’s murder trial in the county courthouse here over the past three days.

The encounter originated with a mother’s request for help for her troubled son. It ended with Kyle, 38, shot six times in an apparent ambush. His friend, Chad Littlefield, 35, also lay dead nearby, shot seven times.

The killing two years ago bewildered veterans and readers of Kyle’s bestselling memoir, disbelieving that the survivor of four brutal combat tours in Iraq could be gunned down back home. His memorial service at the Dallas Cowboys stadium drew thousands. The movie about his life is nearing $300 million in domestic box-office receipts.

Attorneys for Routh, who was arrested on the night of the killings, do not dispute that he shot the two men. But they are arguing to a jury that he should be found not guilty by reason of insanity. If convicted, Routh, 27, could be imprisoned for life without the possibility of parole.

Kyle agreed to meet with Routh at the request of the Marine’s mother. Kyle’s wife, Taya, testified in court this week that she knew the woman because she worked at the elementary school where the Kyle children, then 8 and 6, attended.

It is still unclear how much Kyle and Littlefield knew about Routh, who had been in and out of mental hospitals for at least two years before their encounter and was diagnosed with schizophrenia and psychosis, among other ailments. His family says he also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in the military.

Kyle spoke with Routh at least once by phone before picking him up and he seemed as though he wanted to go to the range with him, Taya Kyle recalled.

The day of the shooting, the Kyles attended a basketball game for one of their children before Kyle and Littlefield drove from their hometown in Midlothian, about 35 miles southwest of Dallas, to Routh’s home in Lancaster. They then drove another 90 miles to Rough Creek lodge, planning to shoot for less than an hour before dropping Routh back to Lancaster, Kyle’s wife testified.

‘Something was up’
On the way to Rough Creek, something appeared to make Kyle uneasy about Routh. Seated in the driver’s seat of his black Ford F-350 pickup truck, he sent a text message to Littlefield, next to him, about Routh, who was seated behind them.

“This dude is straight-up nuts,” it said, the court heard. Littlefield agreed, asking Kyle in a text reply to watch his back.

Routh had smoked marijuana and drunk whiskey before he met up with Kyle and Littlefield, prosecutors said.

The uneasy trio continued on to the range. They arrived at Rough Creek about 3:15 p.m., said Frank Alvarez, a manager at the resort. Kyle was a regular, and his company, Craft International, used the range to train service members, police and civilians how to better use firearms.

“He let us know that Chad was in the truck and that they had a vet with them and needed to work with him,” Alvarez told the court.

Taya Kyle testified that she called her husband while he was at Rough Creek and sensed a problem.

“Something was up, but I didn’t know exactly what,” she recalled, adding that her husband responded to her questions with a few clipped replies and agreed to go with her that night to meet friends for dinner.

Sometime between 4:40 and 4:50 p.m., a wilderness guide at Rough Creek, Justin Nabours, found Kyle and Littlefield, each dead from multiple gunshot wounds. He had gone over to the range with a guest at the club and his son, a middle-school student who wanted to meet the famous Navy SEAL, Nabours said.

Kyle had been shot six times, including a “rapidly fatal” bullet to the back that pierced his aorta, and another to the jaw that caused a severe spinal cord injury, said Jeffrey Barnard, a doctor who performed autopsies on both victims.

Littlefield was hit seven times, including four that would have been instantly fatal, Barnard said. One of the gunshot wounds was to the top of the head, indicating it was likely fired while Littlefield was already on the ground, the doctor added.

Crime scene photos shown in court show Kyle lying on the dirt in front of an elevated deck from which rifles were fired at targets up to 1,000 yards away. Littlefield lay on the same deck nearby.

Both men were armed with .45-caliber 1911-style pistols when they were killed, but neither gun had been unholstered or fired.

“The safeties were still on,” said Michael Adcock, a Texas Ranger.

Prosecutors have not elaborated on how Routh initiated the attack or whether he opened fire on the two men at the same time. Kyle was killed with a .45-caliber pistol, while Littlefield was shot with a 9mm Sig Sauer handgun, a distinctive weapon that is popular with Navy SEALs and had the Navy anchor engraved on it.

Both guns belonged to Kyle, and the Sig Sauer was found in Routh’s possession, reloaded, later that night, authorities said.

High-speed chase
Routh fled the Rough Creek lodge in Kyle’s truck, which was adorned with the logo of the Punisher, a Marvel comics hero that his SEALs team had adopted as its own in Iraq.

He drove to his sister’s house in Midlothian. She called the police after Routh told her he had killed two men.

“He says that he killed two guys,” said the sister, Laura Blevins, according to a 911 call transcript released shortly afterward and played in court this week. “They went out to a shooting range. . . . Like, he’s all crazy. He’s [expletive] psychotic.”

After leaving Midlothian, Routh bought two bean burritos from a Taco Bell restaurant in Red Oak, Tex., which is about eight miles southwest of his hometown of Lancaster, Adcock testified.

Police in Routh’s hometown of Lancaster were mobilizing for his possible return. Police were already at the family home when Routh pulled in. He told them that he had “taken a couple of souls, and he had some more souls to take.”

A video recorded on the body camera of an officer and played in court shows a tense, 30-minute standoff between the police and Routh, who remained inside Kyle’s stolen truck.

One detective, Jesse Chevera, who was also the Rouths’ next-door neighbor, pleaded with him to get out of the truck, reminding him that they’d had previous conversations about Routh’s personal struggles.

“Is this about hell walking on earth right now?” Routh asked.

A police officer said he didn’t know what he meant, so Routh persisted: “Because hell is walking on earth with us right now as we speak.”

Routh took off and led police on a high-speed chase, running red lights and reaching speeds of at least 100 mph in Kyle’s truck. An officer eventually rammed the pickup with his police cruiser as Routh made a left turn.

Routh continued to flee for several more minutes but eventually gave up on I-35, south of Dallas; the truck was incapacitated and leaking fluids, a police cruiser dashboard camera video showed.

Routh exited the truck with his hands up. He laid down as police swarmed around him.

Former Erath County Sheriff’s Deputy Gene Cole said Friday that Routh shared a reason for the deaths in his jail cell four months later:

“I shot them because they wouldn’t talk to me,” Cole recalled Routh saying. “I was just riding in the back seat of the truck, and nobody would talk to me. They were just taking me to the range, so I shot them. I feel bad about it, but they wouldn’t talk to me. I’m sure they’ve forgiven me.”

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