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Military perplexed by slayings

In the past six weeks, the wives of four Fort Bragg soldiers have been slain. In all four cases, investigators said, their husbands were the killers.

In three of the cases, the servicemen involved were members of Special Operations units and had recently returned from Afghanistan. Two of the soldiers killed themselves after killing their wives. The fourth slaying, which occurred this month, was committed by a sergeant from a regular Army unit that was not involved in the Afghan war, officials said.

In addition to these six deaths, an officer assigned to the Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg was shot and killed this week as he slept in his home in nearby Fayetteville. No arrests have been made in that case, a spokesman for the Fayetteville Police Department said.

"It's mind-boggling," Henry Berry, manager of an Army family support program, said at a news conference at the base Friday. "To be absolutely honest, I was completely caught off guard."

Fort Bragg is one of the Army's biggest bases, and home to about 40,000 troops, including two elite units, the 82nd Airborne Division and the Army Special Forces Command, which have played key roles in the Afghan war. Special Forces troops were at the fore of the U.S. offensive in Afghanistan last fall, coordinating airstrikes against Taliban and al-Qaida front lines and working with local Afghan opposition forces. Parts of the 82nd Airborne recently deployed to Afghanistan to replace units from the 10th Mountain and 101st Airborne divisions.

"I've never seen anything like it," said retired Air Force Col. John Carney, who spent almost two decades in Special Operations units. He said he knows many of the commanders of the units involved. "I'm sure they're just as mystified as I am," said Carey, who is now president of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a charitable organization that provides free college educations to the children of Special Operations troops killed on missions or training.

Carey said he expects commanders at Fort Bragg will conduct a review of how troops and their families were handled as they returned from Afghanistan to "try to figure out where they missed signals, and hopefully avoid future problems."

The string of family deaths, which all occurred off the base, began June 11. Sgt. 1st Class Rigoberto Nieves, a member of the 3rd Special Forces Group who had returned from Afghanistan just two days earlier, shot his wife, Teresa, and then himself in their Fayetteville bedroom, according to police. He had requested leave from duty in Afghanistan to resolve personal problems, police said.

On June 29, Jennifer Wright was strangled, sheriff's investigators said. Master Sgt. William Wright of the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion, a Special Forces unit, reported her missing two days later. On July 19, he led investigators to her body, buried in a shallow grave in a field near Fayetteville, and was charged with murder. Wright, who had been back from Afghanistan for about a month, had recently moved out of the family's house and was living in the barracks.

"He was like my own child," Jennifer Wright's mother, Wilma Watson, said from her home in Mason, Ohio. "Until he came back from Afghanistan, I didn't worry about violence. He was getting these attacks of rage. She was afraid of him. I begged her to come home. She still loved him."

On July 9, police said, Sgt. Cedric Ramon Griffin, a member of the 37th Engineer Battalion, which was not involved in the Afghan war, stabbed his estranged wife, Marilyn, at least 50 times and then set fire to their house.

On July 19, Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Floyd, who was identified by the Fayetteville Observer as a member of the Delta Force, a crack antiterrorism unit whose existence is not officially acknowledged, shot and killed his wife, Andrea, and then himself in their home in Stedman, investigators said.

"I truly in my heart believe that his training was such that if you can't control it, you kill it," Penny Flitcraft, Andrea Floyd's mother, told the Review of Alliance, Ohio.

Maj. David Shannon, a Special Operations Command officer, was shot in the head and chest and killed as he slept, police said.

Part of what puzzles officials is that over the past 15 years, the Army has made huge efforts to take care of the families of deployed soldiers, as it saw that the end of the draft and the advent of the volunteer force meant that more of its troops were likely to be married. In 1973, just before the draft ended, 24 percent of Army enlisted troops were married. By the time of the Persian Gulf War, in 1991, that figure had risen to 55 percent. Since then the number has dropped to 50 percent.

At the news conference, Col. Jerome Haberek, a Special Operations chaplain, said, "We're going to evaluate everything we do."

Haberek said counselors are available in the field for Special Operations troops, and soldiers are counseled before they leave on assignment and before they return home.

Until the recent murders, base officials said no domestic abuse deaths involving base personnel had occurred in the past two years.

Haberek said he does not believe Special Operations troops are under any more stress than anyone else. "Our guys are very professional. They recognize they can't do everything alone," he said.

Maj. Gary Kolb, a spokesman for the Army Special Operations Command, said it would be a reach to link the family killings to Afghanistan.

Yvonne Qualantone, president of the 3rd Special Forces Group's Family Readiness Group, said more families than usual have called the counseling group since the killings.

Some women who have had problems with their husbands have called, asking about someone to talk to before things get worse, she said.

_ Information from the Washington Post and Associated Press was included in this report.