U.S. Marine Corps Lance Corporal Harry Lew took his own life in his foxhole in Afghanistan after he was kicked and punched by fellow Marines, military officials tell NBC Bay Area news.
An investigation into the 21-year-old's April death says Lew "leaned over his M249 squad automatic weapon as it pointed to the sky, placed the muzzle in his mouth and pulled the trigger."
Lew wrote on his arm: "may hate me now, but in the long run this was the right choice I'm sorry my mom deserves the truth."
The suicide came moments after fellow Marines attacked Lew for repeatedly falling asleep on guard duty. An investigation shows Lew, from Santa Clara, was caught asleep at least four separate times in areas where "enemy attack was considered imminent." Military records show Lew, who was on his first tour in Afghanistan, was first counseled then disciplined by a sergeant for sleeping while on post.
At some point, Lew was forced to walk his rounds while carrying a single sandbag, symbolic of the weight of his responsibility to his fellow marines.
On April 3, Lew could not be raised by radio while standing post. A check of his foxhole found him asleep once again.
The unnamed sergeant then announced over the radio that "peers should correct peers," according to military documents. That led to what appears to be a sad series of events.
Fellow lance corporals [whose names have been redacted in the report] ordered Lew to dig a new foxhole as a punishment, then informed Lew he could go to sleep once the task was finished. Those corporals, however, did not inform the sergeant they had given Lew permission to sleep.
At 1:00 a.m., that sergeant, whose name has also been redacted from the report, "angrily confronted [Lew] about why he had again fallen asleep." Other Marines then demanded Lew to perform various physical tasks as punishment and would "stomp down" on Lew's back and legs if he failed to do an exercise properly.
"Towards the end of the physical training", the report says a "sandbag broke open at which point lance corporal [redacted] picked it up and poured the contents on Lew's chest and face as he lay with his back to the ground."
Convinced Lew was responding to his punishment with sarcasm and disrespect, fellow lance corporals then "kicked dirt on Lew, kicked him in the back of the helmet, punched him in the back of his helmet with a force that cut [his attacker's] knuckle."
At some point, a fellow Marine stepped in to stop the attack, saying he didn't "want it on his conscience if Lew killed himself" -- which is exactly what Lew did.
A sergeant is blamed in the report for giving responsibility for Lew's discipline to fellow marines.
"Further, he failed to intervene while those peers undertook inappropriate corrective actions." That sergeant faces court martial when the unit returns from Afghanistan, as does an unnamed lance corporal.
The military says unequivocally that Lew took his own life, though it the report does indicated more than one round was shot from Lew's SAW.
"This command mourns the death of Lance Corporal Lew" reads the final report. "His family and friends have my deepest sympathies" says his commanding officer.
Lew is a 2008 graduate of Santa Clara High School and was assigned to the 2nd battalion, 3rd marine regiment, 3rd Marine division.
His obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle says Lew wrote "Brand new Marine, feels good" on his Myspace page shortly after he joined the military.