NEW YORK – Even before the Army sent him to Afghanistan, supporters say, Pvt. Daniel Chen was fighting a personal war.
Fellow soldiers at a base in Georgia teased him about his Chinese name, crying out “Chen!” in an exaggerated Asian accent. They called him “Jackie Chen,” a reference to the Hollywood action star Jackie Chan. People would ask him repeatedly if he was Chinese, even though he was a native New Yorker.
At one point Chen wrote in his diary that he was running out of jokes to respond with.
Then he was sent overseas, and the hazing began: Soldiers dragged him across a floor, pelted him with stones and forced him to hold liquid in his mouth while hanging upside down, according to diary entries and other accounts cited by a community activist.
On Oct. 3, the 19-year-old Chen was found dead in a guardhouse in Afghanistan with what the Army said was apparently a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
On Wednesday, the Army announced charges against eight soldiers in his death, saying Chen was a victim of illegal hazing. Five of those accused were charged with involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide. The alleged offenses also included maltreatment, assault and threats.
The military would not discuss the exact circumstances surrounding Chen’s death. But family members and community activists said they suspect the bullying may have driven him to suicide.
“Whether suicide or homicide, those responsible for mistreating Danny are responsible for his death,” said Elizabeth OuYang, a community activist who is representing his parents, Chinese immigrants who live near New York City’s Chinatown neighborhood.
Attorneys for the defendants could not immediately be located. Pentagon officials would not comment Wednesday on the specifics of the case. But Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby said hazing is not tolerated.
“That’s what this uniform requires. And when we don’t, there’s a justice system in place to deal with it,” Kirby said. “That’s what we’re seeing here in the case of Private Chen.”
The details of Chen’s alleged hazing came from Facebook and email messages, discussions with cousins and a few pages of Chen’s journal released by the Army, OuYang said at a Chinatown news conference.
Chen was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, based in Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
The Army identified the soldiers charged as 1st Lt. Daniel J. Schwartz, 25, of Maryland (no hometown was given); Staff Sgt. Blaine G. Dugas, 35, of Port Arthur, Texas; Staff Sgt. Andrew J. Van Bockel, 26, of Aberdeen, S.D.; Sgt. Adam M. Holcomb, 29, of Youngstown, Ohio; Sgt. Jeffrey T. Hurst, 26, of Brooklyn, Iowa; Spc. Thomas P. Curtis, 25, of Hendersonville, Tenn; Spc. Ryan J. Offutt, 32, of Greenville, Pa.; and Sgt. Travis F. Carden, 24, of Fowler, Ind.
VanBockel, Holcomb, Hurst, Curtis and Offutt were charged with the most serious offenses, including involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, and assault and battery.