To his enemies, he was the “Devil of Ramadi,” an unseen terror who harried insurgents with his rifle during Operation Iraqi Freedom, often from an impossible remove. He served four tours of duty. He was credited with some 160 confirmed kills. He was awarded two Purple Hearts. He played a role in every major engagement in the Iraq war. To the 18,000 folks of Midlothian, Texas, a blue collar town just south of Dallas, Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, 38, was invincible, revered, a local boy, a hero who’d seen and done things they couldn’t imagine, and who then came back home to live among them again and to watch his children grow.
Kyle was a presence in Midlothian. And so was his truck, a souped-up honey that was unmistakable on the streets of the town — a black Ford F-350 with black rims, black window tint, huge knobby mud tires and an aftermarket grill guard befitting an armored riot vehicle. On Saturday, he rode it one last time.
A teacher’s aide at an elementary school just a mile from Kyle’s home had asked him to reach out to her son. Jodi Routh saw her son, an ex-marine, struggling with posttraumatic stress disorder and believed the war hero could help. And so some time on Saturday afternoon, Kyle and his buddy Chad Littlefield picked up Eddie Ray Routh, a tall and wiry 25-year-old, at his home in the Dallas suburb of Lancaster.
(MORE: Chris Kyle’s Alleged Killer)
They would have driven down Highway 67 through Midlothian, past the Holcim cement kiln, with its smokestacks reaching hundreds of feet into the air like spires, and past the Gerdau steel mill, where rust-colored smoke dissipates into a pall over laboring excavators and mounds of scrap metal.
They left behind the flatlands and crossed west over the Brazos River, into that dry, rocky country, all low, cedar-scrub hills, post oak and cactus. A little after 3 p.m., according to court papers, they would have pulled through the sandstone-and-iron gate of Rough Creek Lodge and Resort, a tony, 11,000-acre (4,450 hectare) hunting preserve and conference center, where Fort Worth socialites, business types and politicians pay handsomely to bag bobcat, coyote, white-tailed deer, wild hog or pheasant in the hills and river bottoms. Kyle, Littlefield and Routh took a narrow, 3-mile (4.8 km) asphalt road to the lodge and let Rough Creek hand Frank Alvarez know they were headed to the firing range.
Kyle was a familiar sight; he’d begun hosting training camps at the lodge, giving civilians three-day crash courses in combat. It would have been another mile and a half (2.4 km) down a dirt road to the firing range, where Kyle had been known to fire Browning M2 machine guns into targets. It wasn’t long after they arrived when, authorities believe, Routh turned his semiautomatic pistol on Kyle and Littlefield. Routh then took Kyle’s truck and fled Rough Creek.
By 4:50 p.m., employee Justin Nabours found the bodies, crumpled on the ground and covered in blood. He radioed the lodge for help, called 911 and started CPR.
Routh headed east on Highway 67 and stopped off at a friend’s house in nearby Alvarado. He placed a call to his sister Laura Blevins and asked to speak to her husband Gaines. At around 5:45 p.m., Routh arrived at their house in Midlothian, according to court papers. Routh was “out of his mind,” his sister said. He told them he “traded his soul for a new truck,” that he’d just murdered two people “before they could kill him” and that “people were sucking his soul and that he could smell the pigs.”
His sister told him he needed to turn himself in. At nearly 8 p.m., Routh arrived at the home he shared with his parents in Lancaster on Sixth Street. The police were already waiting. They tried to talk him down but Routh tore off in Kyle’s Ford, through Lancaster, through Dallas. With that truck, he peeled back the hood of a squad car as though it were curled tin. The impact drove the truck’s step bar into the oil pan, dislodging it. The Ford finally gave out when the motor burned up in the northbound lane of Interstate 35, near the Wheatland Road exit in Dallas. Routh was arrested on suspicion of two counts of capital murder.
The measure of Midlothian’s grief can be seen in its response to Kyle’s death. Midlothian cops pull guard duty at his home in a neighborhood of immaculate lawns and brick homes day and night. They watch over the Midlothian Funeral Home, where his body lies for now. They watch over Littlefield’s home and warn reporters away.
Good-looking, thickly muscled and affable, Kyle was a memorable figure to everybody around town. To Robert Cunningham, he was the boy who slung sacks of deer corn into the back of Cunningham’s pickup at Kyle’s father’s store, 4-K Feed. To Bob Price, he was the young man who rode saddle broncs with his son at a practice arena in Mansfield. Or did, anyway, until Price’s boy broke his neck, which was right around the time Kyle broke his arm. Both recovered. To Dennis DeWeerde, proprietor of Ellis County BBQ, he was a friend and an unfailingly gracious customer who brought his family in for lunch after Sunday services. A banner draped across the front of the restaurant bears the Punisher-style skull that was the logo of Kyle’s combat-training consultancy, Craft International, with the words, “Rest In Peace Chris Kyle/ Gone But Never Forgotten.”
There was talk of a memorial service. The only problem was, they didn’t think there was a building in Midlothian big enough to hold everyone who loved and admired him. So, they’re all going to gather on Monday in Arlington’s Cowboy Stadium, to say goodbye to the bronc-busting soldier who fought in hell on earth, a world away, only to die at home after his war had ended.