The full story will unfold in the coming days and weeks, but the core of the tragedy is undisputed: Former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle—author of the bestselling military memoir American Sniper—is dead.
Kyle and a friend were shot and killed at a central Texas gun range Feb. 2. Another former soldier, 25, was charged with murder in connection with the point-blank shooting, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Kyle, just 38, leaves behind a wife and two children.
He also leaves a legacy of bravery under fire and steadfast commitment to the U.S. armed forces and the nation they protect.
The SEAL Team 3 Chief gave us all a window into his uncommon experiences when he penned American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History. Written with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice, the book was a bestseller.
From 1999 to 2009, Kyle recorded the most career sniper kills in United States military history. Iraqi insurgents feared him so much they called him Al-Shaitan Ramad (or the Devil of Ramadi) and placed a $20,000 bounty on his head. According to the Stephenville (Tex.) Empire-Tribune, Kyle fired his longest successful shot after spotting an insurgent armed with a rocket launcher near a U.S. Army convoy 2,100 yards away (about 1.2 miles).
Just a little more than two weeks before his death, Kyle was interviewed at the SHOT Show 2013 and discussed gun violence, gun control, and the veteran life:
Kyle also earned legendary status among his fellow SEALs, Marines, and U.S. Army soldiers, fighting alongside them in the streets, as well as protecting them from rooftops and stealth positions.
And the following American Sniper excerpt describes how Kyle’s first target was anything but your garden-variety suicide bomber:
The rifle I was holding was a .300 WinMag, a bolt-action, precision sniper weapon that belonged to my platoon chief. He’d been covering the street for a while and needed a break. He showed a great deal of confidence in me by choosing me to spot him and take the gun. I was still a new guy, a newbie or rookie in the Teams. By SEAL standards, I had yet to be fully tested.
I was also not yet trained as a SEAL sniper. I wanted to be one in the worst way, but I had a long way to go. Giving me the rifle that morning was the chief’s way of testing me to see if I had the right stuff.
We were on the roof of an old rundown building at the edge of a town the Marines were going to pass through. The wind kicked dirt and papers across the battered road below us. The place smelled like a sewer—the stench of Iraq was one thing I’d never get used to.
“Marines are coming,” said my chief as the building began to shake. “Keep watching.”
I looked through the scope. The only people who were moving were the woman and maybe a child or two nearby.
I watched our troops pull up. Ten young, proud Marines in uniform got out of their vehicles and gathered for a foot patrol. As the Americans organized, the woman took something from beneath her clothes, and yanked at it.
She’d set a grenade. I didn’t realize it at first.
“Looks yellow,” I told the chief, describing what I saw as he watched himself. “It’s yellow, the body—”
“She’s got a grenade,” said the chief. “That’s a Chinese grenade.”
“Take a shot.”
“Shoot. Get the grenade. The Marines—”
I hesitated. Someone was trying to get the Marines on the radio, but we couldn’t reach them. They were coming down the street, heading toward the woman.
“Shoot!” said the chief.
I pushed my finger against the trigger. The bullet leapt out. I shot. The grenade dropped. I fired again as the grenade blew up.
It was the first time I’d killed anyone while I was on the sniper rifle. And the first time in Iraq—and the only time—I killed anyone other than a male combatant.
It was my duty to shoot, and I don’t regret it. The woman was already dead. I was just making sure she didn’t take any Marines with her.
Kyle was on NBC’s reality show Stars Earn Stripes last year, where he demonstrated skills he learned as a Navy SEAL.
Here’s a clip of Kyle in action (and behind the scenes) during the show:
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin remembered Kyle on a heartfelt Facebook post:
Chris was a wonderful man, a good friend, and a true American hero who loved our country and served honorably. He was loved and admired by so many, and he will never be forgotten.