The morning after Navy SEAL veteran Chris Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield were murdered, Kyle’s wife sat down with her two children on the family lawn. She had one sitting on each of her knees, and began crying before saying a word.
“Is he dead?” her daughter blurted out. Taya nodded.
“Daddy was helping someone,” the mother said. “There was something really, really wrong with that person and his brain. He shot and killed Daddy and Mr. Chad.”
It is one of the most wrenching passages in Taya’s new book, “American Wife: A Memoir of Love, War, Faith and Renewal.” Released Monday, it covers the life of a family that has been under a microscope ever since the SEAL, credited as the most deadly sniper in U.S. military history, published a memoir in 2012 that was turned into the blockbuster movie “American Sniper.”
The SEAL’s book leaves off with him finding his footing after leaving the military, and the movie ends with his murder Feb. 2, 2013, by Eddie Ray Routh, a Marine Corps veteran whose mother had sought Chris Kyle’s help. Taya’s book covers her memories of the period, including the chaos and struggles after the murder.
Routh was convicted in February of first-degree murder after his lawyers argued that he should be found not guilty by reason of mental insanity, citing his diagnosed schizophrenia and psychosis.
Among the details recalled:
She insisted on seeing her husband’s body after the murder
Taya said she was told repeatedly by police that she should stay
away from the murder scene and her husband’s autopsy. Eventually, though, she said she “exploded” and demanded to see him. The police relented and agreed to take her to the funeral home where Chris’s body had been taken.
“Was I wrong to insist that I needed to be with my husband?” she asks in her book. “I’d always loved him no matter what, and was willing to see him at his worst as well as his best. Maybe I was being irrational, but I had a deep emotional need — and if you’d asked me, I would have insisted that he needed me there as well.”
Friends came to see her afterward, and she shared the experience in “torrent” of words, she wrote.
“I got to feel his hair. His body was soft. I kissed his face,” she recalled telling them. “I told him I loved him. He wasn’t all cleaned up. I was glad — I was glad. I could see his eyes, his set jaw. I could see, I could touch…”
The friends stayed with her as long as she needed, she said.
Frustration with critics
Chris Kyle has been called racist and anti-Islamic for his portrayal of the Iraq War and calling insurgents “savages.” Taya wrote that she doesn’t understand that, but believes that accounts of Kyle’s sniper kills has something to do with it.
“The difference here was that there was a specific record and acknowledgement of each kill,” Taya wrote. “Somehow, that offended some people’s sense of propriety.”
She adds: “Certainly Chris hated the terrorists and insurgents he was fighting. But that hatred didn’t translate into blind rage against all Muslims.”
One last practical joke
Chris Kyle was buried after a funeral service at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Tex., that drew thousands. Taya said she struggled to decide what to bury him in, and eventually settled on a plaid shirt and pressed jeans. But her husband needed something more, she thought.
“There was a part of me that wanted the mortician to arrange his fingers so he was flipping people the bird,” she wrote. “Chris would have loved that. And many of the people who knew him would have roared at the joke — it was very Chris, a last practical joke.”
Discretion won out, she said, but she did find an alternative. Chris Kyle was buried wearing a gag T-shirt that Taya pulled from his closet. Its message: “DO I LOOK LIKE A @#$#$!@ PEOPLE PERSON?”
“He wore that to his grave under his plaid button-down shirt, a silent last guffaw,” Taya wrote.
Seeing Routh’s family
Taya recalled attending a preliminary court hearing for Eddie Ray Routh, her husband’s killer, and realizing that his mother wanted to speak to her.
“I wasn’t ready to deal with that,” she said. “There had been reports in the media that her son had threatened people with violence, something I doubt Chris knew. That doesn’t make her responsible for what happened, but I have to wonder if things would have been different had Chris realized how severe her son’s problems were.”
On the Jesse Ventura lawsuit
In “American Sniper,” Chris Kyle wrote that he punched out a celebrity he called “Mr. Scruff Face” after the man allegedly said that the SEALs “deserved to lose a few” in combat. Kyle later identified former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura as that man, prompting a lawsuit from Ventura.
A Minnesota jury awarded $1.845 million to Ventura in July, finding that Kyle defamed him. Taya Kyle said in her book that an insurer covered $500,000, but the rest falls to the Kyle estate to pay. Taya has appealed, and said that her husband used to say that someone else might win when facing him, but they would remember they had fought him.
“At the end of the day, more than enough witnesses came forward to support what Chris had said,” she wrote. “Why the jury chose not to believe them or Chris — I can only shake my head. Would the result have been different if the trial had been held anywhere other than St. Paul, where Ventura’s portrait hangs in the state capitol? The experience has been an interesting introduction to our legal system, not to mention the world of haters and their hangers-on.”
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