Killer. Healer. Victim.

In Iraq, Navy SEAL Chris Kyle was a world-class sniper. At home he worked to help fellow veterans. That mission got him killed

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Paul Moseley / Fort Worth Star-Telegram / MCT / Getty Images

The late Chris Kyle, former Navy SEAL sniper.

The Healer
He left the Navy in 2009 after a decade of service. Kyle wanted to re-enlist, but his now widow Taya said she’d leave him if he did. “She was going to take our two kids and go to her parents,” he said. “And I could lose my family.” Over the course of his deployments to Iraq, he earned a constellation of medals, including a pair of Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars. Back home, he and some fellow vets founded Craft International, a security company. “Despite what your momma told you,” its motto reads, “violence does solve problems.”

Kyle loved firearms. His Chris Kyle Academy—one of two training outfits he set up—was planning to hold a handgun-training session for local schoolteachers on April 6 to enable them to qualify for a concealed-gun permit. “He wanted to train 1,000 schoolteachers,” Tarrant County constable Clint Burgess says. “He loved guns and wanted to make sure people could handle them safely. He was the first to tell you: Guns don’t kill.”

Kyle also tried his hand as an author. “It’s kind of frowned on,” Kyle said of his writing. “I’m not trying to glorify myself. I didn’t want to put the number [of kills] I had in there. I wanted to be able to get it out about the sacrifices military families have to make.” Readers lapped it up: Kyle’s book, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, became a nonfiction success in early 2012, with nearly 1 million copies distributed.

(MORE: The Last Ride of the Devil of Ramadi: Sniper Chris Kyle’s Final Mission)

That led to TV appearances and speaking engagements and let him harness his fame to aid struggling vets. Kyle had created the Fitco Cares Foundation in late 2011 with the goal of helping veterans overcome their struggles through exercise—something he had done when he returned home, though he said he didn’t have PTSD. He also began taking vets to shooting ranges. “What wounded veterans don’t need is sympathy,” Kyle explained in his book. “They need to be treated like the men they are: equals, heroes and people who still have tremendous value for society.” He saw shooting as a key part of that process.

For a combat veteran, an invitation to go shooting with Kyle—perhaps the world’s best sharpshooter—was like being asked to play golf with Tiger Woods. “I can see being on the range being therapeutic and almost cathartic for people back from war,” says Rorke Denver, a 13-year SEAL who served with Kyle and whose book, Damn Few: Making the Modern SEAL Warrior, will be published Feb. 19. “Hollywood has made the public think that shooting a weapon is an aggressive act and very intense. But to shoot well is completely the opposite. It’s slowing your heart rate down, your breathing down, focusing and taking the time to identify your target.”

Others aren’t so sure a shooting range was the right place for Kyle to take Routh. “It seems crazy,” says Elspeth Ritchie, a retired Army colonel who once served as its top psychiatrist, “to bring a troubled young man to a firing range.”

PHOTOS: Navy SEALs in Action

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