A Texas man has admitted to stealing the valor of a deceased Marine who killed himself a decade after being injured by an IED in 2004 while serving in combat in Iraq.
For years, Brandon Blackstone of Arlington claimed he suffered a traumatic brain injury and leg and ankle injuries. He traveled the country talking about his experiences and even received a free house from a veterans organization, disability benefits from the U.S. government and a Purple Heart. There was just one problem: The story Blackstone told wasn't his own but that of Casey Owens.
Owens and Blackstone served in the same combat unit in Afghanistan in 2004 when an IED threw Owens about 30 feet off a Humvee, blowing off one of his legs and badly injuring the other. He also suffered from hundreds pieces of shrapnel in his body, including a piece of a carburetor that struck his neck, WFAA-TV reported.
The explosion didn't kill Owens, but it changed his life forever.
“Casey lived in hell for 10 years," Lezleigh Owens Kleibrink, Owens' sister, said. "He didn’t sleep. He was trapped within his own body, trapped with no legs and trapped with a brain that didn’t work properly anymore.” The suffering eventually became too much for Owens, and in 2014, he committed suicide.
Meanwhile, Blackstone claimed Owens' harrowing story as his own. But the truth came to light when Blackstone showed a picture of the damaged Humvee to another Marine who had witnessed the attack and knew Blackstone was actually in the Humvee behind the one Owens was in.
The fellow Marine then told other Marines, and word eventually got to an FBI agent, who looked into the false claim.
Blackstone has since pleaded guilty to multiple felony counts, including "wire fraud and fraudulent representation about the receipt of a military decoration for financial gain," according to the Dallas Morning News, and now faces up to 21 years in prison. His sentencing is scheduled to be held in February. And while Blackstone did still serve his country in Iraq, as far as Kleibrink is concerned, he is no hero.
“He may have enlisted in the Marine Corps, but he's not a Marine," she told WFAA-TV. "Marines don't behave like this."