U.S. investigators now believe that rather than one single massacre, the suspect in the Afghan killings split his slaughter in half, returning to his base after the first round of killings, then venturing off base for another episode.
The hypothesis raises even more questions about the massacre of 17 Afghan civilians, namely how the suspect could have twice left his base unseen.
Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales has been formally charged with 17 counts of murder, as well as six counts of attempted murder, and six counts of aggravated assault and other violations of military law.
If convicted, Bales could face the death penalty.
The 38-year-old soldier allegedly gunned down nine Afghan children and eight adults as they slept in their homes in two southern villages.
He's a mild-mannered family man who harbored no ill will towards Muslims.
He has a history of anger issues that led to an arrest for assault on a girlfriend, and told a military newspaper in 2009 that he and his fellow soldiers were proving in Iraq that there was a difference between being an American and being a bad guy.
Conflicting reports are emerging Saturday following the identification of the American soldier accused of gunning down 16 Afghan civilians on March 11. The soldier has been identified as Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. Bales was part of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, assigned to a village stability operation.
Bales' lawyer, John Henry Browne, paints a portrait of a decorated soldier with a spotless military record, whose stresses in combat had begun to take its toll.
Stunned friends and family express shock that the man they know as a kind-hearted father could be capable of the crimes he stands accused of.
But court records indicate Bales has been in trouble with the law before, citing a 2008 hit-and-run accident and a 2002 arrest for assault on a girlfriend. And though family members say they have never heard him express hostile feelings towards Muslims, an old interview suggests there may have been deeper emotions left largely unexpressed.
Bales returned to U.S. soil Friday, and is being held in a medium/minimum security prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He had been moved from Afghanistan to Kuwait Wednesday, angering Afghans who demanded to see the soldier brought to justice on their soil.
Officials say the move was necessary because Afghanistan lacked appropriate detention facilities; the move to Kuwait also allowed the U.S. to provide pretrial confinement, access to legal representation, and the ability to ensure fair and proper judicial proceedings.
Rumors of marital problems and alcohol use have swirled around Bales as pundits and various experts have attempted to rationalize the events of March 11. Browne has shot down the notion that marital strife could potentially have led to a massacre of numerous civilians, many children, choosing instead to focus on the strain of combat.
Browne says the staff sergeant, a "highly decorated" veteran of multiple Iraq tours, was reluctant to deploy to Afghanistan when he received his orders late last year, having been injured multiple times during previous deployments, including a concussion and a battle-related injury that cost him part of one foot.
The lawyer suggests the soldier may reached his breaking point just hours before the shooting rampage, when he witnessed a friend's leg blown off.
This information was provided by the family, Browne said, and has not been independently confirmed.
Bales' wife and two young, 3 and 4, have been moved onto Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state for protection. The family resides outside Tacoma, Wash., though Bales originally hales from the Midwest.
Gen. David M. Rodriguez, commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command, said Friday he believes servicemembers are appropriately screened by the military before embarking on repeat tours.
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