Hanford, Calif. Two Marines were severely traumatized after following orders to photograph corpses of unarmed Iraqi civilians that members of their unit are suspected of killing, their families said Monday.
The parents of Lance Cpl. Andrew Wright, 20, and Lance Cpl. Roel Ryan Briones, 21, both members of a Marine unit based at Camp Pendleton, said their sons were sent into the western Iraqi city of Haditha to help remove the bodies of as many as two dozen men, women and children who were shot.
While there, the two were ordered to photograph the scene with personal cameras they happened to be carrying the day of the attack, the families told The Associated Press in separate interviews. Briones' mother, Susie, said her son told her mother he saw the bodies of 23 dead Iraqis that day.
"It was horrific. It was a terrible scene," Susie Briones, 40, said in a tearful interview Monday with The Associated Press at her home in California's San Joaquin Valley.
She called the incident a "massacre" and said the military had done little to help her son deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I know Ryan is going through some major trauma right now," said Susie Briones, an academic adviser at a community college. "It was very traumatic for all of the soldiers involved with this thing."
The details of what happened Nov. 19 are still murky. What is known is that a bomb rocked a military convoy and left one Marine dead. Marines then shot and killed unarmed civilians in a taxi at the scene and went into two homes and shot other people, according to Rep. John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat and decorated war veteran who has been briefed by military officials.
The incident has sparked two investigations - one into the encounter and another into if it was the subject of a cover-up. The Marine Corps attributed 15 civilian deaths to the bombing and a firefight with insurgents, eight of whom the Marines reported had been killed.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday on CBS's "The Early Show" that "it would be premature for me to judge" the situation.
But he added that it is critically important to make the point that if certain service members are responsible for an atrocity, they "have not performed their duty the way that 99.9 percent of their fellow Marines have."
When asked how such a thing could have happened, Pace replied: "Fortunately, it does not happen very frequently, so there's no way to say historically why something like this might have happened. We'll find out."
Lance Cpl. Briones told his mother he saw the bodies of 23 dead Iraqis.
Briones' best friend, Lance Cpl. Miguel "T.J." Terrazas, had been killed earlier that day by the roadside bomb. He was still grieving when he was sent in to clean up the bodies of the Iraqi civilians, his mother said.
Wright also photographed the scene, according to his parents, Frederick and Patty Wright. They said their son was an innocent victim who was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
"He is the Forrest Gump of the military. He ended up in the spotlight through no fault of his own," Frederick Wright told the AP in an interview at his home in Novato, about 20 miles north of San Francisco.