Chris Kyle, who died on Saturday, Feb. 2, after being shot at a Texas gun range, was a divisive figure. He was a former Navy SEAL and a military hero with a slew of medals including two Silver Stars, having served five back-to-back tours in Iraq as a sniper. He had 160 confirmed kills, the highest count in U.S. military history. But there were those who were made uncomfortable by his lethal proficiency.
And at the time of his death, he was being sued by former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura for remarks in his best-selling book, American Sniper.
One thing nobody ever doubted, however, was his bravery. His kill count was so high because he often served with other branches of the military, especially the Marines. According to early reports, he was killed, along with another man, by a veteran while all three were on a recreational shooting trip. Unconfirmed reports suggested Kyle had taken his alleged killer, Eddie Ray Routh, on the outing to help alleviate Routh’s posttraumatic stress disorder.
In an interview with TIME in January 2012, Kyle, 38, said he did not regret shooting any of the people he had killed, including his first long-range hit, a woman who had a grenade in one hand and a toddler in the other. He did note, however, that he could not bring himself to kill a small boy who picked up a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, even though the rules of engagement allowed it.
During the interview, Kyle was polite, affable and not easily ruffled. It was clear, however, that he was not a man to be messed with. In person, he had both the cuddliness and latent aggression of a bear. “I really don’t care what people think of me. I’ve got my family. I’ve got my friends. Yes, I have been trained to be a little more aggressive if I need to be, but I don’t go around thumping people,” he said.
Kyle, who leaves a wife and two kids, joked during that interview that he only usually got hurt at home. “My wife jokes that I hang up my cape when I get home,” he said. “I’d stub my toe or break my toe at home but at work was fine.”