Father of Soldier Charged in Shooting Says Son 'Snapped'

The Army sergeant accused of killing five fellow soldiers in Iraq was typically not a violent person, but counselors "broke" him before the gunfire erupted in a military stress center, his father said Tuesday.

Wilburn Russell, 73, told reporters that his son, Sgt. John M. Russell, was treated poorly at the stress center and had e-mailed his wife calling two recent days the worst in his life.

He said he hopes "we find he snapped because of the pressure. He wasn't a mean person."

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"I hate what that boy did," said the elder Russell, speaking in front of the two-story suburban home his son is buying with his wife. "He thought it was justified. That's never a solution."

The 44-year-old soldier has been charged with murder and aggravated assault in the Baghdad slayings Monday, which his father said came just weeks before the end of his third tour of duty in Iraq.

His father said the younger Russell, an electronics technician, was at the stress center to transition out of active duty. He said his son was undergoing stressful mental tests that he didn't understand were merely tests, "so they broke him."

"His life was over as far as he was concerned. He lived for the military," the elder Russell said. "We're sorry for the families, too. It shouldn't have happened."

The soldier's son, John M. Russell II, said Tuesday that he has communicated with his father by e-mail regularly. In the last message he received from him, on April 25, his father sounded normal and planned to be back in Texas to visit in July.

"He's not a violent person," he said. "For this to happen, it had to be something going on that the Army's not telling us about."

Sgt. Russell grew up in rural Grayson County and graduated from high school in 1985. He entered the Army National Guard in 1988 after a divorce and minor scrapes with the law and served until going on active duty in 1994.

He lives with his wife in Germany, where he's been for the better part of the past 10 to 15 years but comes home a couple times a year, his father said.

Russell's ex-wife filed for divorce in 1991 and obtained a temporary restraining order against him, alleging in the petition that he committed "acts of family violence."

The petition also cited an alleged incident in which he had a confrontation with Denise Russell's mother.

"During this time, respondent physically attacked my mother, age 58, hitting her on the shoulders and about the head," a petition affidavit stated.

There was no response Tuesday to a telephone call and a visit to Russell's ex-wife.

In 1993, a month after the divorce decree was issued, Russell was charged with misdemeanor assault but the matter was dropped, records show.

Jack McGowen, listed as Russell's attorney for the divorce as well as the threat case, said Tuesday he can't recall either matter.