This article originally appeared in RS 1091 from November 12, 2009. This issue and the rest of the Rolling Stone archives are available via Rolling Stone Plus, Rolling Stone's premium subscription plan. If you are already a subscriber, you can click here to see the full issue. Not a member? Click here to learn more about Rolling Stone Plus.
It was just after closing time on Saturday night when the four soldiers staggered out of the Rum Bay nightclub ("Southern Colorado's largest supply of rum!"), piled into a gray Audi A4 and lit a blunt. Since they had returned from fighting in Iraq, where they had seen some of the bloodiest action of the war, nights like this had become common. There are more than 50 bars in downtown Colorado Springs, and on some nights thousands of people, many of them troops from nearby Fort Carson, pour out onto the streets after last call, looking for trouble. Rum Bay was one of the worst dives in town: Infamous for brawls involving drunken soldiers, locals called it "Fight Club." That night, the bar offered a special dispensed by shooter girls in denim cutoffs, who carried trays filled with test tubes of vodka mixed with apple schnapps. "We drank an ungodly amount," one of the men, Kenneth Eastridge, later recalled. "Like, hundreds of shots."
Eastridge and the others were members of the same Army unit, and they had all served together in Baghdad during the most volatile phase of the war. A 24-year-old specialist known as a "crazy bastard with no remorse," Eastridge had been court-martialed for stockpiling 463 pills of Valium in his barracks. Two of his buddies from Charlie Company carried equally sketchy reputations: Bruce Bastien, a 21-year-old medic who had been arrested for beating his wife while on leave, and Louis Bressler, a 24-year-old private who "started acting like King Kong," in the words of a fellow soldier, after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Tucked beneath the driver's seat of the Audi was a .38 revolver registered to Bressler's wife.
The fourth soldier, a quiet specialist named Kevin Shields, wasn't really friends with the other men. A computer geek and EverQuest enthusiast, Shields had been shipped home after suffering multiple concussions in Iraq. He didn't go out much, tending to stay in with his wife, Svetlana, and their three-year-old son, but tonight was his 24th birthday. At a downtown bar, Shields ran into the three soldiers from Charlie Company and quickly ingratiated himself by buying everyone rounds of drinks.
Now, as Bastien steered his car through the middle-class neighborhood of Westside, just beyond the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Bressler began to throw up. "Fucking great," Bastien said. "All over my car." Pulling over, he let Bressler out near a park on Cucharras Street. The sight of Bressler puking was hilarious to the other men: "Look at him! What a pussy!" But Bressler wasn't laughing. It was one thing for Bastien and Eastridge to hassle him. "We were his close friends," Bastien said later. "I guess you could say he was offended at being made fun of by Shields." Bressler walked up to Shields, who was smoking a cigarette near the curb, and swung at his head. Shields nimbly evaded the blow — then, according to Eastridge, he "kicked Bressler's ass."
Though much confusion remains about what happened over the next 30 minutes, this much is certain: In front of an old Victorian house on South 16th Street, Shields was shot "execution style" — twice in the head — from a distance of less than two feet. One bullet lodged in the base of his skull and severed his brain stem. At five that morning, a newspaper deliveryman discovered Shields' body sprawled across a sidewalk, blood pooling next to a white picket fence decorated with red ribbon for the Christmas holidays.
Five nights later, on December 5th, 2007, Bressler was surrounded by a SWAT team as he pulled his red Suzuki Forenza into a gas station. "It was like I was in Iraq," he recalls. "I look up and there are all these guys pointing machine guns at me." Bressler was charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Shields, as were Bastien and Eastridge. At first, investigators assumed the case was closed — until one of them, pursuing a hunch, learned that the three soldiers were responsible for a string of violent crimes that year in the area surrounding Fort Carson.
On July 28th, Bastien and Bressler had fired three shots at a man walking to get gas for his truck, hitting him once in the shoulder. A week later, on August 4th, they executed Robert James, a fellow private from Fort Carson, as he begged for his life in a parking lot. On October 27th, Bressler ran over a 19-year-old nursing student in his Suzuki; Bastien then stabbed her six times with a combat knife. A drive-by shooting in which no one was hurt rounded out the charges. "Those are just the attacks we know about," says Derek Graham, a homicide detective who served as a lead investigator on the case. "My gut feeling is that they were involved in more."
In the six years since combat operations began in Iraq, Fort Carson — the country's third-largest Army base, with 22,000 active soldiers on duty — has become its own kind of killing field. Before Kevin Shields was gunned down, at least three other Iraq War veterans from the base had been arrested for murder, and a fourth had committed suicide after killing his wife. Since then, at least five more GIs at Fort Carson have been arrested in connection with murders, attempted murders or manslaughter. All told, the military acknowledged this summer, 14 soldiers from the base have been charged or convicted in at least 11 slayings since 2005 — the largest killing spree involving soldiers at a single U.S. military installation in modern history.
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