A Troubled Marine's Final Fight

When his nation called, Marine Sergeant David Lindley answered. But when he came home hurting, his country let him down

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Peter Van Agtmael / Magnum for TIME

When his nation called, Marine Sergeant David Linley answered. But when he came home hurting, his country let him down.

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Linley sought help from the VA and others but was leery of what acknowledging his ills would mean for his career. (He says they had already derailed a job with the U.S. Border Patrol.) "I fault myself for not reaching out more," Linley says. "You get cocky and prideful and think, I'm a sergeant. I can handle this." He wanted to head back to Iraq for a fifth combat tour, but Kristin thought he had done his duty. Job hunting, a new baby and his wife's brain tumor (successfully removed) added to the stress.

So did a lack of comrades. All his earlier trips home from overseas had been to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where he could soak in the warmth and understanding of his Marine buddies. But when he returned home for the last time, in 2004, he found himself in an unfamiliar Midwestern suburb where such fraternal solace was harder to find.

Linley recalls being surprised by how the sight of police at his door triggered a flashback. "I thought those dark memories were buried forever," he says. But a 1987 study of Israeli troops who fought in Lebanon five years earlier shows such thoughts don't always stay buried. "Even when combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder remits ... the afflicted person may become highly sensitized to stress in general," it concluded. "He is permanently altered, harboring the potential for a future response on re-exposure to threatening stimuli."

What began as a sad ritual in Linley's basement on a Thursday night became a matter of life and death for his neighborhood as Friday afternoon darkened into evening. He fired in the direction of the police negotiator's voice and fire trucks on the scene. In between shots, Linley bellowed out the Marines' Hymn. "Today's a good day to die!" he shouted to the cops. He almost got his wish. Three hours after the officer had knocked on his door, a police marksman fired law enforcement's lone bullet that day, a .308 round that winged Linley but didn't bring him down.

People were foolishly standing in a place I could have easily shot them, but it was more of a game now. I was shooting close enough to let them know I was there and waiting for them to shoot me. They didn't. Eventually they did shoot me. At the time, it really pissed me off that they didn't kill me.

He surrendered seven hours later, after what he says was a failed effort to hang himself with parachute cord. Shortly after midnight, Linley stumbled out of his front door, wounded, haggard and unarmed. "Linley's shirt is soaked in blood and there is an evident hole in the upper left arm of the shirt," the police report said. His eyes were bloodshot and watery. "He appears pale in color and moves very slow."

Police arrested Linley at 12:30 a.m. "We were able to take him into custody, get him medical attention and save his life," Rompa says. Linley has been locked up since. The state charged him with two counts of attempted first-degree murder, six counts of aggravated discharge of a firearm and one count of criminal damage to government property. Bail was set at $3 million; he faced up to 240 years in prison.

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