NOTE FROM Ann Blake-Tracy: Early this year we
learned that we are losing as many soldiers to suicide as we are in combat. But
before long we are going to find that we are losing far more soldiers at the
hand of their fellow soldiers than we are in combat. The numbers of cases at
this point are staggering!
they knew of their relationship with Spc. Joshua S. Hunter, 20,
Ona, W.Va., the fellow soldier now accused
of their gruesome double murder.” Paragraph fourteen
reads: “Mr. Mills said soldiers who knew his nephew told him that
Spc. Hunter had been on antidepressant medication
and that his mental state had deteriorated noticeably over the past few
Victims’ families grappling with ‘nightmare’
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 4, 2009
“It’s a nightmare,” she said. “I wish
it was a nightmare.”
Natalia Valbuena, 15, little sister of Spc. Diego A.
Valbuena, 23, one of the two Fort Drum soldiers found dead of stab wounds
Tuesday in their Evans Mills apartment, spoke Thursday by phone from her home in
Port St. Lucie, Fla. Her parents, Fernando and Guerty Valbuena, were too
distraught to speak to the press about the loss of their son, the second of four
Family members of Spc. Valbuena and Spc. Waide T. James, 20,
Port St. John, Fla., spoke Thursday about the young men: their commitment to the
military, their friendship, their hopes for the future.
They also spoke
of the little they knew of their relationship with Spc. Joshua S. Hunter, 20,
Ona, W.Va., the fellow soldier now accused of their gruesome double murder.
All three men returned in the spring from a 15-month tour in Iraq with
the 10th Mountain Division’s Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion. Spc.
Valbuena and Spc. James remained in that unit, where they were motor transport
operators, according to Fort Drum spokesman Maj. Frederick C. Harrell. Spc.
Hunter had since been assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team’s rear detachment,
meaning he remained at Fort Drum while the brigade completed a yearlong
deployment in Afghanistan.
The 3rd Brigade’s approximately 3,500 soldiers
are in the process of returning home from a deployment that left 24 dead and
about 300 wounded from combat-related incidents. Fort Drum medical officials
said this week that they had requested and will receive 15 new mental health
care providers to add to an existing staff of 54 to help meet the needs of those
But Spc. Hunter’s family members told the Associated Press on
Thursday that it was the Iraq warthat had changed him.
“He saw his best
friend get blown up to pieces and he tried to put him back together,” said Emily
Hunter, Spc. Hunter’s wife, in a phone interview. “He was never right after
Speaking with a reporter at her home, Judy Hunter said her son, a
military police officer, was not the same after returning from the war. He had
trouble sleeping and would stay up for days on end. He sometimes suffered
flashbacks. Though her son never talked to her about his experiences, he did
confide in his father about “the trauma he went through,” she said.
my heart of hearts, I think he snapped,” Ms. Hunter said.
MySpace page was disabled Thursday, but the Associated Press reported disturbing
comments posted there while it was still up: “I am angry at the world and I will
take it out on anyone,” the soldier wrote.
Michael D. Mills, Spc. James’s
uncle, said by phone Thursday that he’d heard from other soldiers that Spc.
Hunter had been staying at Spc. Valbuena and Spc. James’s Evans Mills apartment
because of problems in his marriage.
“Josh wasn’t moved in or anything,”
Mr. Mills said. “I think what was happening was Josh was having issues with his
wife and they were in the process of getting separated, and he was staying over
there for a few nights.”
Mr. Mills said soldiers who knew his nephew told
him that Spc. Hunter had been on antidepressant medication and that his mental
state had deteriorated noticeably over the past few weeks.
spoke from the Port St. John home of Karen and Charles Mills, Spc. James’s
grandparents. Spc. James lived with the Millses for three years before he joined
the Army, in March 2007. The soldier‘s uncle described him as an enthusiastic
outdoorsman. Karen Mills said her grandson loved playing with his four young
cousins, ages 6 through 11.
“They worship the ground that he walked on,”
she said. “Whenever he was here, he became one of them. If they were rolling
around on the floor, they were all rolling around on the floor … But he looked
after them. He loved them, and they loved him terribly and that’s one of the
tough things we’re dealing with now.”
Sergio Valbuena, 31, described Spc.
Valbuena, his younger brother, as “driven.” Born in Colombia, he came to the
United States in 2001 and joined the Army in August 2007 because “he felt it was
his duty to give back. … We are all proud of this country, of the
opportunities we have received,” he said.
“We were very proud of him, but
we were trying to get him not to re-enlist,” he said.
The family was
worried for his safety.
Natalia Valbuena said her brother Diego had
encouraged her to do well in school and in life, and that made her all the more
determined to persevere through his death.
She said Diego was in the
midst of a divorce from his wife, Catherine, also a soldier at Fort Drum. The
two had joined up together, and remained close friends even though the marriage
hadn’t worked out.
Catherine Valbuena was planning to return to Florida
today, Natalia said.
Spc. James’s family said he would be buried in
Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell, near Orlando. Neither family knew when
the bodies of the soldiers were due home
23-year old’s body and along with the body of 20-year old Waide James of Port
St. John in Brevard County in their apartment just outside Ft. Drum in New York.
The two failed to report for duty on base.
Police say the Army Specialists had been stabbed to death.
authorities tracked their other roommate, military police officer Joshua
Hunter, to Ohio.
“Hunter, 20, was expected to be arraigned on
second-degree murder charges Friday morning, three days after the bodies
of James and Valbuena were found in their apartment just outside Fort Drum,
about 140 miles northwest of Albany. Hunter and the two victims served
in Iraq at the same time in the same battalion.”
reads: “‘He was a gunner and he was active,’ says his father, Jim
Hunter. ‘He said he saw some things he couldn’t get out of his mind. I
know he was seeing a therapist and taking
Slain Port St. Lucie soldier recalled as ‘loving person’ who put others
- BY CAROLYN SCOFIELD WPTV NewsChannel 5
- Posted December 4, 2009 at 6:18 a.m.
PORT ST. LUCIE Nicole
Aviles will always remember his smile.
Diego Valbuena, a 2006 St. Lucie
West Centennial graduate, had a big grin and knew how to make his younger cousin
“He was like the life of the party,” says Nicole Aviles. “He
always had a big grin on his face.”
There’s not a lot of laughter in the
family right now as they prepare for the funeral of the Port St. Lucie
Investigators found the 23-year old’s body and along with the
body of 20-year old Waide James of Port St. John in Brevard County in their
apartment just outside Ft. Drum in New York. The two failed to report for duty
Police say the Army Specialists had been stabbed to
New York authorities tracked their other roommate, military police
officer Joshua Hunter, to Ohio.
Hunter, 20, was expected to be arraigned
on second-degree murder charges Friday morning, three days after the bodies of
James and Valbuena were found in their apartment just outside Fort Drum, about
140 miles northwest of Albany. Hunter and the two victims served in Iraq at the
same time in the same battalion.
They all were based at the wind-swept
Army post near the Canadian border, home of the much-deployed 10th Mountain
Division, and shared an off-base apartment.
Investigators have not
released a motive, but Hunter’s family says he served 15 months in Iraq and came
Relatives of Hunter said Thursday that he told them he saw
his best friend “blown to pieces” in Iraq and came back a changed man: abusive,
violent, sleepless, edgy and plagued by flashbacks.
“He was a gunner and
he was active,” says his father, Jim Hunter. “He said he saw some things he
couldn’t get out of his mind. I know he was seeing a therapist and taking
Hunter’s wife, Emily Hunter, told The Associated Press in a
phone interview that her husband was outgoing before he went to war, but when he
returned stateside, he was an emotional wreck.
“He’d just burst into
tears; spouts of anger or sadness,” she said. “There’d be one emotion but it
would be really deep, just extremely happy or extremely sad. His emotions were
always on the rocks.”
“He’d take his rage out on the wall, or throw
something,” she said.
While he wasn’t violent toward his buddies, he was
toward her, she said, adding that she went to the hospital a couple of times for
treatment of an injured arm and thumb.
She said she moved out two weeks
ago because of his violence and is pursuing a divorce.
served 15 months in Iraq. His family says he loved his country and excelled in
He earned the Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal
and Iraq Campaign Medal among other awards.
More important than the
medals was his love of family.
“A guy like him is like, one in a trillion
basically,” says Aviles. “He was just such a loving person, like he always put
others in front of himself.”
Sergio Valbuena said his brother was a good
“He’s a pretty good boy, a pretty good kid,” he said. “He was loved
by everybody. He was a very good brother, a very good son.
“He was always
a problem-solver. He loved this country. That’s the reason he joined the
In September, James and Valbuena graduated from Fort Drum’s
Warrior Leaders Course, which teaches skills required to lead, train, fight and
accomplish the mission as noncommissioned officers. The two and Hunter all
listed each other as friends on their MySpace pages.
Valbuena wrote on
his MySpace page that he was born in Bogota, Colombia, and had joined the
military in August 2008.
James and Valbuena served as motor transport
operators with the Headquarters Battalion of the 10th Mountain Division,
according to Fort Drum’s public affairs office.
James arrived at Fort
Drum in July 2007, while Valbuena joined in August 2007 and came to Fort Drum in
January. Both have received awards and decorations including the Army
Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq
Campaign Medal and overseas service ribbon.
James’ grandparents, who live
in Port St. John, described him as an avid outdoorsman who loved
James lived in Brevard County for three years before joining the
Army in March 2007. He arrived in Fort Drum in July of that year.
returned from his first tour of Iraq about seven months ago,” said his
grandfather, Chuck Mills. “If he could go fishing every hour of the day, he
would. He loved four-wheeling, being out in the mud.”
is making arrangements to hold his funeral in Port St. Lucie.
writer Eric Pfahler, Kaustuv Basu of Florida Today and The Associated Press
contributed to this report.