Marine hero languishes in detention
- Marine hero languishes in detention
Saturday, November 19, 2005
By TOM DAVIS
When Christian Lopez marched with his fellow Marines into Baghdad,
little girls showed their gratitude to be finally rid of Saddam
"They went up to him and gave him real Iraqi money, with Saddam's
picture on it," said his brother, Frank Lopez of Ridgefield.
Soon after, the young corporal returned to the States a hero.
Now, two years later, after a second tour of duty, the U.S. Marines
consider him "potentially violent and dangerous."
For the past two months, Lopez has been detained at Camp Lejeune in
North Carolina on charges of breaking military rules while aboard the
USS Ashland. Lopez served on the transport ship during a six-month
tour in the Mideast. He could face a court-martial hearing, although
no timetable has been set.
Lopez, 23, also has received psychiatric care at a base hospital
after allegedly trying to hurt himself, his brother said.
At times, family members said, he has acted paranoid and delusional.
During a family visit, he spoke of seeking revenge for a motorcycle
accident his father had last year. His dad lost part of his leg, and
Lopez wanted to go after the person responsible.
"He said, 'Dad, I'm going to cut off my leg for you,'" Lopez's
brother Jordan said.
Family members want to know how a good Marine who helped topple a
dictator has ended up imprisoned. They wonder if he's suffering from
battle trauma and question whether he's getting the care he needs.
Psychologists say a variety of war-related factors could have
triggered Lopez's behavior. Serving aboard the Ashland this year, for
instance, could have reminded him of the horrors of war he saw in
"It's like a perfect storm, where things come together," said Charles
R. Figley, director of the Florida State University Traumatology
As many as 17 percent of all soldiers who have served in Iraq and
Afghanistan have reported symptoms of depression, anxiety and post-
traumatic stress disorder, according to a March study in the New
England Journal of Medicine. That compares with about 15 percent of
those who fought in the Vietnam War and the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Because symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder can take years -
or even decades - to appear, the number of cases will likely
increase, Figley said.
Even a soldier with an exemplary background - like Lopez - could
suffer, he said. "You have a particular person who has confronted a
series of traumatic experiences in his life," Figley said.
The Marines have charged Lopez with disrespect, failure to obey an
order, communicating a threat and breaking restrictions, said 1st Lt.
Clark D. Carpenter, a Marines spokesman.
Although Carpenter declined to elaborate, Lopez's family said the
Marines have accused him of sexually harassing a female lieutenant
this year aboard the Ashland.
Carpenter said Lopez initially required "medical restraints" and some
of his clothes were removed while he was detained at Camp Lejeune,
because he wanted to hurt himself.
Lopez's family says he is facing the battle of his life and they want
to be sure the country he defended gives him a fair trial.
"The kid is a good kid," Frank Lopez said. "He never did anything bad
his entire life."
Lopez's father, Luis, says he's borrowing money to pay for attorneys
who specialize in military law. He said he visited Christian at Camp
Lejeune and saw his son's arms and legs bound by chains.
"I gave the Marines a healthy boy. Now he's bipolar," Luis Lopez
said. "He has too many bad dreams."
Carpenter insisted Lopez's treatment "has been followed by protocol."
That includes handcuffs and leg irons during family visits for those
Marines considered dangerous, he said. "He's been treated
appropriately, and any concerns and issues have been addressed," he
By serving in the Marines, Lopez was proud to realize a childhood
He played football at Spotswood High School, but teachers said he was
focused on pursuing a military career. After graduating in 2001, he
"He stopped by after he got out of boot camp," said Lopez's criminal
justice teacher, Frank Yusko. "He was very proud and proud to show
Just two years ago, Lopez was celebrating his return from a five-
month tour of duty in Iraq and Kuwait. Spotswood High School honored
him with a plaque on its "Wall of Honor."
Newspapers and TV stations featured him in stories. The family threw
Lopez a party at his parents' Florida home, where Lopez told a local
reporter about being ambushed outside Nasiriyah.
"There's a big rush of adrenaline," he told the St. Petersburg
Times. "But you can't get nervous or scared, because you have to be
alert so you can do your job."
At the time, his family said, Lopez displayed no signs of post-
traumatic stress disorder. "In Iraq he saw some things. But he didn't
really talk about it much," Frank Lopez said.
They noticed a change while Lopez was aboard the Ashland this year.
The Marine wrote e-mails to his brothers in which he talked openly
about hurting people.
The erratic behavior continued when Lopez returned to Camp Lejeune in
September, just before he was committed to the detention facility.
"When we visited him, he took off his jacket, threw it on the floor
and said, 'I'm [crap]. I'm nothing," Jordan Lopez said. "He was just
talking way off reality. He was paranoid. He was delusional."
Since then, Lopez's father has been staying at a hotel near Camp
Lejeune, visiting his son every day at the hospital.
"We have to work one day at a time," he said.
E-mail: davist @ northjersey.com
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