Authorities: Veteran wearing military fatigues kills self with assault rifle at Ohio VA center

By Dan Sewell, AP
Friday, April 16, 2010

Authorities: Fatigues-clad vet kills self in Ohio

DAYTON, Ohio — An Iraq War veteran wearing military fatigues stood in predawn quiet Friday at a monument to soldiers and fatally shot himself with an assault rifle outside the Veterans Affairs medical center where he had been a patient, authorities said.

Police said Jesse C. Huff, 27, fired a second round into his head after he survived a first shot. Authorities said he had appeared to have no intention of harming anyone else, although police searched a military-type backpack near the body and also Huff’s van. The police bomb squad detonated the backpack as a precaution.

Police Sgt. Dan Mauch said police had no idea about a possible motive. He said Huff’s relatives in the Dayton area had been notified, but he wouldn’t release their names.

Officials at the VA center indicated that Huff hadn’t been considered at high risk for a suicide attempt or had ever made alarming statements. Bill Wall, a VA clinical social worker who leads programs at the center for Iraq-Afghanistan veterans, said the Army veteran had been injured by an explosive device in Iraq.

Huff entered the Army April 15, 2003 as an infantryman and was promoted to the rank of specialist in 2005 before being discharged on June 15, 2007, said Army spokesman Wayne Hall.

Hospital officials said they couldn’t release any other information about Huff’s condition or visits to the center, but spokeswoman Donna Simmons said he was seen around 1 a.m. Friday, nearly five hours before the shooting.

At an address listed for Huff in an older residential neighborhood in eastern Dayton, a woman answering the door Friday evening said no one wanted to say anything.

Mauch said police didn’t know of any witnesses to the shooting, and that it was reported at about 5:45 a.m. by someone inside the center who saw Huff falling on the steps in front of the marble statue that depicts a Union Army private, just outside the center’s main entrance. The center began by serving Civil War veterans shortly after that war ended.

Wall said it’s difficult to explain why Huff chose to kill himself where he did.

“This was a place where he felt comfortable, where he felt safe, which sounds paradoxical,” Wall said. “It wasn’t an angry, in-your-face type of thing.”

He added: “Suicides in general are about emotional pain.”

The Veterans Affairs Department recently said that preliminary data showed a 26 percent increase in suicides among male veterans ages 18 to 29 from 2005 to 2007, the most recent year for which such data was available.

In recent years, the VA has hired thousands of new mental health professionals and established a suicide hot line credited with “rescues” of nearly 6,000 veterans and military members in distress.

Sandy Coleman, suicide prevention coordinator at the center, said staffers are contacting all veterans who have been counseled in the past as suicide risks and offering walk-in counseling for veterans and center employees.

Sitting in a wheelchair outside the center, Desert Storm veteran Eric Hill, 41, recovering from surgery unrelated to his military service, said he didn’t know Huff but that all the veterans felt for him.

“We’re all brothers. We’re all here for a reason,” Hill said. “Conversion back to civilian life after being in a place like Iraq can be hard.”

Associated Press writer Lisa Cornwell in Cincinnati contributed to this report.

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