Death without mercy in a distant place defined Chris Kyle, but it was kindness that killed him in his native Texas. The most lethal sniper in American military history, he was credited with 160 confirmed kills in places such as Falluja and Baghdad; the true body count was perhaps as high as 255. Able to end lives without a flicker of emotion in Iraq, Kyle lost his own last weekend at a shooting range because he took pity on a stranger.
It was a peculiar and tragic final act to the life of a man who had made killing his business. In the public reaction to his death, attention has focused on the singular skills of the sniper, which remain an object of fascination, rather than on the scars borne by members of the military stretched thin by the wars of the past dozen years and which Kyle was dedicated to healing.
Although they had attended the same school in Midlothian, Texas, Kyle did not know Eddie Ray Routh, his killer. Kyle, 38, had spent a decade as a US Navy Seal. He was a titan even within a warrior elite who had earned the sobriquet al-Shaitan Ramadi — “the devil of Ramadi” — among Iraqi insurgents and a $20,000 (£12,600) bounty on his head after four tours in Iraq. Routh, 13 years his junior, had been an armourer in the US Marine Corps Reserve who had seen little, if any, combat during his four years of service.
It was Routh’s mother Jodi who had asked the beefy, bearded but softly spoken Kyle to help her son, who had twice been admitted to a local psychiatric hospital and had told police he had been affected by his experiences of war.