That veterans need help now is undeniable— The Nicholas Horner double-murder trial is over, and the former Middle East war veteran will be sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.
But the heartache caused by his actions on April 6, 2009, remain, as does the enormous issue of combat stress on individuals who return from the front and attempt to rejoin society.
Horner, a Johnstown native, was convicted Tuesday by a seven-member Blair County jury of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Scott Garlick and Raymond Williams.
Garlick was slain at the restaurant where he worked during a robbery committed by Horner, who also shot and wounded another employee, Michele Petty. Horner then left the restaurant and fled down the Altoona-area street, where he encountered and killed Williams outside an apartment complex.
Horner’s attorneys never questioned whether he was the shooter.
But they did argue that post-traumatic stress disorder from his combat experiences had clouded Horner’s mind.
Horner served two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Kuwait.
Defense lawyer Thomas Dickey called Horner “a sick man. He is not evil.”
Dickey added: “These PTSD and related cases are something we’re going to see more and more, and we’re going to see different verdicts.”
And: “This horrific, tragic event makes no sense at all, unless you put it all together with Nick’s military history.
“Then it makes a lot of sense. I submit to you that he was in the throes of a delirium state.”
We have had several PTSD-related criminal cases in our region in recent years, including a 2008 bank robbery in East Taylor Township and a current situation involving a veteran who pleaded guilty to drunken-driving but withdrew that plea in the face of a dishonorable discharge from the Marines Corps.
Cambria County President Judge Timothy Creany said he is willing to work with the soldier facing the DUI charges, who is at risk of losing his military benefits, because of the man’s service to his country.
“We owe him that much,” Creany said.
We owe our veterans our best efforts to study and treat a growing PTSD problem – to give them the help they need.
The issue of PTSD hit the global stage on March 11, when a U.S. soldier allegedly walked off his base in Afghanistan and killed 17 civilians, including nine children, in nearby villages.
Karilyn Bales, the wife of accused shooter Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, said her husband had shown no signs of PTSD before heading off to his fourth tour of duty.
“He shielded me from a lot of what he went through,” she said. “He’s a very tough guy.”
During a 2009 seminar in Johnstown, Maj. Gen. David M. Blackledge said soldiers suffering from PTSD struggle to open up to those who might provide support – including family members and employers.
“We need to change our whole culture to make sure soldiers know it is all right to come forward and get help,” Blackledge said.
We must also do more to confront PTSD in order to protect our society.
The grief experienced by the families of Horner’s victims will not quickly subside now that the trial has ended.
Some wanted justice in the form of a death sentence for Horner, an understandable sentiment.
In the end, murder is murder, and Horner will appropriately pay a high price for his crimes.
We urge our government and military leaders, our veterans organizations, our hospitals and our court systems to make post-traumatic stress disorder a priority.
As a society, we must work harder to understand PTSD and its impact on individuals, and to provide early detection and treatment options for vets.
All citizens deserve our commitment to finding and diffusing these ticking time-bombs before another incident of unspeakable tragedy.
We owe that level of diligence to the memories of Scott Garlick and Raymond Williams, who were cut down in an horrific moment of violence, their lives snuffed out by bullets fired by a troubled soul.
Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.